Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Healing Patellar Tendon Tears with Physical Therapy —

A ligament called the patellar tendon works in harmony with the thigh muscles to straighten the leg, which is an important function for walking, running and jumping. This tendon attaches the bottom of the kneecap (patella) to the top of the shinbone (tibia). Injuries to the patellar tendon can happen as a result of a fall where the front of the knee receives the impact. It can also happen as the result of jumping, causing the knee to bend when the foot contacts a solid surface. Falls resulting in patellar tendon tears usually also involve lacerations. In this case, surgery is called for to repair the tendon and the lacerations.

Jumper’s Knee and Athletes

Athletes are most susceptible to patellar tendon tears, a fact that has resulted in a nickname for the ailment, ‘jumper’s knee’. Jumper’s knee is frequently reported in volleyball, basketball, and track and field players, with the highest incidents reported in volleyball, basketball and soccer players.

Nonsurgical Treatment for minor incidents of Jumper’s Knee

  • physical therapy for knee tendon tear
  • wearing a brace and physical therapy.

Understanding Patellar Tendon Tears

Tendons are very strong fibrous cords that are built to take a lot of punishment, so when a tear does occur, it is usually the result of a very strong impact. A patellar tendon tear can be extremely painful and is usually accompanied by swelling and tenderness. These symptoms can impair even basic mobility such as simply walking from one place to another.

The patellar tendon often tears at the place where it attaches to the kneecap, and a piece of bone can break off along with the tendon. When a tear is caused by a medical condition — like tendinitis — the tear usually occurs in the middle of the tendon.

While small tendon tears can make it difficult to walk and participate in other daily activities, a large tear of the patellar tendon is outright disabling, usually requiring surgery followed by a long stint of physical therapy to regain full knee function. The physical therapy prescribed for this is based on the type of tear, whether surgical repair was involved, the patient’s medical condition, and a variety of other considerations.

Chronic Patellar Tendonitis Physical Therapy

Athletes who repeatedly injure the patellar tendon will sometimes experience patellar tendonitis. This is an overuse condition that happens as athletes are required to push past the pain to keep playing. Patellar tendonitis can take several months to heal and most patients are treated with rehabilitation protocols and functional progression.

Some common chronic patellar tendonitis rehab exercises include:

  • Stretching lower extremity muscles
  • Stationary cycling
  • Deep tissue massage
  • Quadricep strengthening exercises
  • Hip strengthening exercises

Postoperative rehabilitation of a patellar tendon tear

Typical rehabilitation involves the use of a cylinder cast or brace for 6 weeks. The patient is allowed to bear weight as tolerated with crutches in the cast. Early exercises to improve range of motion helps to reduce the risk of stiffness and the need for secondary manipulation. As healing progresses, rehabilitation focuses on regaining full range of motion and quadriceps control, followed by increasing muscle mass and sport-specific functions. Of course, all exercises are individualized to the patient’s condition based on the type of tear, surgical repair, medical condition, and the specific needs of the patient.

A total recovery of a patellar tendon rupture takes about six months normally, but many patients need up to 12 months before reaching their goals.

The SRO Award Winning Physical and Hand Therapy Services integrated care model allows patients to receive the best care through direct collaboration with your orthopaedic specialist. We offer hands-on care and personalized rehabilitation programs tailored to meet individual patient needs. Our therapy team specializes in sports medicine and post-operative rehabilitation for all levels of need. Our objective is to help you reach your goals.

SRO’s PT/OT/CHT services are available at our Santa Rosa location and have also recently expanded to Petaluma (see locations). The physical therapy office in Petaluma is located next to the existing Santa Rosa Orthopedic Medical Group office at 169 Lynch Creek Rd. The Petaluma PT office is located back-to-back with the Petaluma Orthopaedic Office and is accessed via an adjacent parking lot.  Appointments are available by calling 707-546-1922.


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