The patellar tendon connects the kneecap (the patella) to the shin bone. This is part of the ‘extensor mechanism’ of the knee, and together with the quadriceps muscle and the quadriceps tendon, these structures allow your knee to straighten out, and provide strength for this motion. The patellar tendon, like other tendons, is made of tough string-like bands. These bands are surrounded by a vascular tissue lining that provides nutrition to the tendon.
Patellar tendon tears can be either partial or complete.
Partial tears. Many tears do not completely disrupt the soft tissue. This is similar to a rope stretched so far that some of the fibers are torn, but the rope is still in one piece.
Complete tears. A complete tear will disrupt the soft tissue into two pieces.
The patellar tendon often tears where it attaches to the kneecap, and can break a piece of the bone as it tears. When the patellar tendon is completely torn, the tendon is separated from the kneecap. Without this attachment, you cannot straighten your knee.
When a tear is caused by a medical condition — like tendonitis — the tendon usually tears in the middle.
What causes patellar tendonitis?
Patellar tendonitis is the condition that arises when the tendon and the tissues that surround it, become inflamed and irritated. This is usually due to overuse, especially from jumping activities. This is the reason patellar tendonitis is often called “jumper’s knee.”
When overuse is the cause of patellar tendonitis, patients are usually active participants of jumping-types of sports such as basketball or volleyball. Patellar tendonitis may also be seen with sports such as running and soccer. Also, some patients develop patellar tendonitis after sustaining an acute injury to the tendon, and not allowing adequate healing. This type of traumatic patellar tendonitis is much less common than overuse syndromes.
Common symptoms of jumper’s knee include:
- pain directly over the patellar tendon (or more specifically, below the kneecap)
- stiffness of the knee, particularly while jumping, kneeling, squatting, sitting, or climbing stairs
- pain when bending the knee
- pain in the quadriceps muscle
- leg or calf weakness
Less common symptoms include:
- balance problems
- warmth, tenderness, or swelling around the lower knee
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