If you are at all active, suffering a patellar tendon tear is one of the most devastating knee injuries you could have. You would likely require surgery and months to regain your normal knee motion and strength, let alone return to competitive sports or even exercise. In this post, I discuss this difficult knee injury, the surgery to repair it and the postoperative rehabilitation.
What is a patellar tendon tear?
The patellar tendon is the tendon just below your patella (kneecap). It is essential to help you extend your knee. You usually need to have a specific event happen to suffer a torn patellar tendon, such as landing awkwardly from a jump. If you tear your patellar tendon, you almost always require surgery to reattach it to the base of the patella.
Patellar tendon ruptures
Who is at risk for tearing the patellar tendon?
Most people who rupture their patellar tendons are under the age of 40. They are also usually active and athletic, since these injuries often occur while you are playing sports.
What does the surgery to repair the patellar tendon entail?
The surgeon makes a small incision down the front of your knee. He or she usually passes sutures through the tendon and passes them through drill holes in the patella, tying the sutures at the top of the patella. The surgeon then places you in a knee brace while the repair heals. Over the next several weeks, you work to regain your full range of knee motion. Working with a physical therapist can help you strengthen your leg. Getting full strength, range of motion and function can be a lengthy process. Returning to sports and demanding exercise can take up to six months or more.
Are you likely to return to sports and exercise?
People want to return to sports and exercise, and I bet you are no different. Physical activity is often what makes us happy. Generally as orthopaedic surgeons, we are successful in helping adults return to recreational or semi-professional sports after these surgeries. While surgical repair of patellar tendon rupture presents a challenging recovery, even elite athletes can have good results and often return to the same level of play. A study looking at patellar tendon repairs among NFL players showed that approximately 80% returned to play at the same level of play. If you work really hard after patella tendon surgery, you can usually return to the activity you love to do.
Ask Dr. Geier: Patellar tendon rupture
Ask Dr. Geier: Return to sports after patellar tendon repair
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