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Knee Problem Treatment Guide

Tendinitis and Ruptured Tendons

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Updated December 03, 2003

What Are the Causes of Tendinitis and Ruptured Tendons?

Knee tendon injuries range from tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon) to a ruptured (torn) tendon. If a person overuses a tendon during certain activities such as dancing, cycling, or running, the tendon stretches like a worn-out rubber band and becomes inflamed. Movements such as trying to break a fall may cause excessive contraction of the quadriceps muscles and tear the quadriceps tendon above the patella or the patellar tendon below the patella. This type of injury is most likely to happen in older people whose tendons tend to be weaker. Tendinitis of the patellar tendon is sometimes called jumper's knee. This is because in sports requiring jumping, such as basketball, the muscle contraction and force of hitting the ground after a jump strain the tendon. The tendon may become inflamed or tear after repeated stress.

What Are the Symptoms of Tendon Injuries? How Are Injuries Diagnosed?

People with tendinitis often have tenderness at the point where the patellar tendon meets the bone. They also may feel pain during faster movements, such as running, hurried walking, or jumping. A complete rupture of the quadriceps or patellar tendon is not only painful but also makes it difficult for a person to bend, extend, or lift the leg against gravity. If there is not much swelling, the doctor will be able to feel a defect in the tendon near the tear during a physical examination. An x-ray will show that the patella is lower in position than normal in a quadriceps tendon tear and higher than normal in a patellar tendon tear. The doctor may use an MRI to confirm a partial or total tear.

How Are Knee Tendon Injuries Treated?

Initially, the doctor may ask a patient with tendinitis to rest, elevate, and apply ice to the knee and to take medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain and decrease inflammation and swelling. If the quadriceps or patellar tendon is completely ruptured, a surgeon will reattach the ends. After surgery, the patient will wear a cast for 3 to 6 weeks and use crutches. If the tear is only partial, the doctor might apply a cast without performing surgery. A partial or complete tear of a tendon requires an exercise program as part of rehabilitation that is similar to but less vigorous than that prescribed for ligament injuries. The goals of exercise are to restore the ability to bend and straighten the knee and to strengthen the leg to prevent a repeat knee injury. A rehabilitation program may last 6 months, although the patient can return to many activities before then.

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