The patella tendon connects the knee cap, also known as the patella, to the tibia or shin bone. It acts like a lever and is a key component in the movement of straightening the knee. Injuries to the patella tendon can range from a strain to a rupture and can cause pain and dysfunction.
Injuries to the Patella Tendon
The most common injuries to the patella tendon are due to overuse or excessive strain to the knee. However, patella tendon injuries can occur with an injury, usually from a fall. In these injuries, the quadriceps muscle, the muscle responsible for knee extension, contract or tightens. Initially the pain can be minimal. If not properly treated the pain can become permanent due to poor circulation coupled with a decrease in tensile strength as the body ages.
A tendon is a band of strong connective tissue connecting bone to muscles. Patella tendonitis, also called jumper’s knee, is irritation and inflammation of the tendon just below the kneecap resulting from micro-tears. Inflammation is the body’s defense against injury. Tendonitis of this area is an overuse condition commonly seen in activities requiring a lot of jumping. However, irritation of the patella tendon can also occur with running.
Patella Tendonitis Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of patella tendonitis include pain and tenderness directly over the tendon area with possible swelling. Pain is worse with continued activity or with knee extension. Treatment of patella tendonitis includes ice, rest and anti-inflammatory medications, with a slow return to normal activities.
Patella Tendon Rupture
A tear in the patella tendon is called a rupture. When there is a tear in the patella tendon, the kneecap loses support from the shin bone which impedes the knee’s ability to extend or straighten. This causes complications with standing as the leg will often buckle due to the leg’s inability to straighten and support body weight. In extreme cases, the patella moves up into the thigh area.
Patella Tendon Rupture Treatment
Treatment for a patella tendon rupture depends on the severity of the tear. Partial ruptures may respond to non-surgical treatment including immobilization and rest. For more serious ruptures or complete removal of tendon from the bone, surgery is necessary. Casts or braces are required for several weeks to allow the tendon to heal, followed by several weeks of physical rehabilitation.