How to Recover From a Patellar Tendon Tear

The patellar tendon is the tendon below the kneecap (patella) that attaches the quadriceps (front thigh) muscles to the tibia (shinbone). This tendon is extremely important in straightening the knee or slowing the knee during bending or squatting. Basically, any physical activity or sport requires an intact patellar tendon.

Patellar tendon tears can be either partial or complete. When there is a complete tear, the patellar tendon separates from the kneecap and the knee cannot be straightened.

Athletes tend to overexert themselves during play and when too much body weight or force is placed on the knee, the patellar tendon can rupture or tear. Because this tendon is very small and vital to knee support, choosing an orthopaedic surgeon and physical therapist who specialize in knee injury treatment is crucial. Recovery from a patellar tendon tear can take a long time, so your best friend during those rehabilitation months needs to be your physical therapist.

The general phases to recovery from a patellar tendon injury are provided below for reference to the average patient, but individual patients will recover at different rates depending on age, associated injuries, pre-injury health status, rehab compliance, tissue quality and severity of the injury.

Phase I: Called the “protection phase,” requires about 6-8 weeks of strengthening exercises after surgery. These specific exercises work to restore strength to your quadriceps and range of motion in the knee.

Phase II: Six weeks after surgery, your therapist will remove your brace so you can move more freely with a greater range of motion. Exercises will continue to be conservative to normalize gait and assess control without the brace, including leg stands and squats.

Phase III: This phase starts around 4 months after surgery and focuses on restoring more of the knee function. Running and biking are incorporated in the session as well as sport-specific drills tailored to the athlete’s sport and position. We add impact into the drills and hope to see good control and no pain during participation.

Patellar tendon ruptures are typically major injuries, yet athletes can and should expect to return to their previous level of play after surgery and rehabilitation.

Have you suffered an injury or are recovering from surgery? Make sure you have a team of highly-specialized sports medicine and physical therapy experts who will work together to design an individualized treatment program to meet your goals so you can return to the sport you love.

The highly-trained physicians and surgeons at the Emory Sports Medicine Center treat a wide variety of sports medicine conditions and athletic injuries, including sprains and strains from the foot and ankle to the elbow and hand. To see an Emory Sports Medicine specialist, call 404-778-3350 or complete our online appointment request form.

Emory Physical Therapy offers a complete range of services for patients needing rehabilitation services at seven convenient locations around metro Atlanta. Our experienced staff includes board certified clinical specialists in orthopedics and sports medicine, certified intramuscular and manual therapists, Pilates certified specialists, certified strength and condition specialists.

About Dr. Karas

karas-speroSpero Karas, MD is a team physician for the Atlanta Falcons. He is the Director of the Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Fellowship Program and an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Emory University. Dr. Karas is an internationally recognized expert in the field for sports medicine, surgery of the shoulder and knee, and arthroscopic surgery. He has been recognized as one of America’s “Top Orthopaedic Doctors” in Men’s Health Magazine April 2007 and “Top Sports Medicine Specialists for Women” in Women’s Health Magazine. Atlanta Magazine has named him “Atlanta’s Most Trusted Sports Medicine Specialist” for the past three years.

He has authored over 200 manuscripts, presentations, and instructional videos and has presented his research at numerous institutions both internationally and throughout the United States. His work has been featured in NBC television, Men’s Health Magazine, Ski Magazine, and numerous internet health services. He works closely with industries in the design of orthopaedic devices and teaches physicians throughout the world in their use.

Dr. Karas came to Emory in 2005, after serving as Chief of the Shoulder Service and team physician at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He currently serves as team physician for the Atlanta Falcons, Georgia Tech Baseball and Lakeside High School, as well as a consulting team physician for Emory University and Georgia Tech athletics. He cares for patients and athletes of all levels: professional, collegiate, scholastic, and recreational.

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