What is a quadriceps tear or strain?

A quadriceps tendon tear or strain is an injury to the quadriceps tendon (the tendon that works with the muscles in the front of the leg to straighten the leg).

Although quadriceps tears or strains are not common, this injury can make it difficult to walk or participate in day-to-day activities.

Types of quadriceps tear or strain

Quadriceps tears are classified as partial or complete tears.

A partial tear only will fray the tendon.

A complete tear will split the tendon into two pieces and the muscle will be detached from the kneecap. You will not be able to straighten the knee when the quadriceps contract.

Causes of quadriceps tear or strain

  • Direct falls or force to the front of the knee
  • Lacerations or a cut in the quadriceps
  • Sports that involve jumping or twisting can cause you to land awkward and put massive pressure on the tendon.
  • Tendons in the quadriceps could tear due to other conditions such as tendonitis, chronic disease, steroid use, antibiotics or a sedentary lifestyle.

Risk factors for quadriceps tear or strain

  • Age — middle-aged people are at higher risk for suffering a quadriceps tear.
  • Activity — people who participate in sports that require running or jumping are at higher risk for developing quadriceps tear or strain.

Symptoms of quadriceps tear or strain

  • Popping or tearing sensation in the quadriceps
  • Cramping, bruising or tenderness
  • Inability to walk without the leg giving way
  • A depression where the tendon tore

Diagnosis of quadriceps tear or strain

A quadriceps tear or strain is diagnosed in a full medical exam with your primary care or orthopedic physician.

During the medical exam, the physician will inquire how you sustained the injury and ask about your past medical history.

During the physical exam, your doctor will also conduct a full exam of the knee to determine the causes of your symptoms.

Your provider may also order an x-ray or MRI test to confirm the diagnosis. The MRI can display how much of the tendon is torn and where the tear occurred.

Treatment for quadriceps tear or strain

The treatment protocol for a quadriceps tear or strain depends on your age, activity level and size of tear.

Nonsurgical treatment options for quadriceps tears or strains:
  • Immobilization with a knee brace — a brace will help keep the knee straight in order to allow it to heal completely, typically for three to six weeks.
  • Physical therapy — physical therapy for a quadriceps tear will include specific exercises that restore range of motion and strength.
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection — PRP therapy is a newer form of therapy where a patient’s blood is taken, put through a centrifuge and then injected back into the body to facilitate healing.

People who have complete quadriceps tears may require surgery to reattach the torn tendon to the kneecap. Surgery is most successful when the repair is right after the injury.

Recovery from quadriceps tear or strain

Although many patients experience thigh weakness or soreness in the affected area, most people can return to their normal level of activity following the injury.

If you are a competitive athlete, it is important to work with your physician to determine when you can return to sports after a quadriceps tear. If you return too quickly, you are at a higher risk for re-injuring the area.

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