Can’t Describe Your Knee Pain? See Your Ortho

A sore knee is common, especially after long periods of exercise involving running or jumping. With rest, this pain goes away. Some people have severe or chronic knee pain originating in the kneecap region. Pain in this area can limit movement and mobility, but what’s the underlying cause? The kneecap or patella is prone to different types of injuries, such as patella tendonitis or a ligament tear. Seeing an orthopedic specialist is the only way to get to the root cause of the problem. Only then can someone who is struggling with knee pain benefit from the best treatment plan for long-term health.


What’s the difference between these injuries?

Patella tendonitis and patella tear are common knee injuries, especially in athletes and those who engage in physical activity. The patella is the kneecap bone that protects the front of the knee. A thick, fibrous ligament connects the bottom of this bone to the top of the thigh bone. Patella tendonitis is an inflammation of the patellar tendon, often caused by overuse or repetitive stress. On the other hand, a patella tear is a more severe injury involving a partial or complete patellar tendon rupture. This injury is usually due to a sudden and forceful movement or collision, typical in contact sports or car accidents. Both conditions have similar symptoms, which can worsen if left untreated.

Symptoms and diagnosis of patella tendonitis

The most common symptom of patella tendonitis is pain below the kneecap. The pain can worsen with physical activities like jumping, running, or knee bending. Other symptoms also include swelling, stiffness, and tenderness around the affected area, restricting daily tasks. Patella tendonitis is diagnosed through a physical exam and imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound. During the exam, an orthopedic specialist evaluates the symptoms, medical history, and recent injuries that might have caused the condition. Using imaging tests, the doctor can confirm the diagnosis, identifying inflammation, tears, or other abnormalities in the patellar tendon. Additional tests, such as x-rays or computerized tomography (CT) scans, may also be ordered to rule out other conditions.

Treatment options for patella tendonitis

Rest is the first line of treatment for patella tendonitis, avoiding activities that aggravate the condition and using crutches if necessary. Physical therapy (PT) helps strengthen the muscles around the knee and improve flexibility. Modalities such as ultrasound therapy, electrical stimulation, and massage may help reduce inflammation and pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can manage pain and inflammation, while surgery or corticosteroid injections may be necessary for severe cases. Advancements in medical techniques, such as regenerative medication, are also gaining popularity as a non-surgical, long-term treatment option.

Is it a tear?

One symptom of a patella tear is a sharp pain in the front of the knee. A patella tear also gives a feeling of instability and weakness. The pain caused by a patella tear can be sudden and severe, with some individuals even hearing a pop, indicating a severe tear. Additionally, instability can result in the knee giving way, especially during physical activities. To diagnose a patella tear, doctors perform similar tests to patella tendonitis. A physical exam assesses symptoms, medical history, and knee joint function. The patellar apprehension and grind tests are also used during this exam. Imaging tests like MRI are crucial for confirmation, providing detailed images of the knee joint and surrounding structures. Additionally, MRI scans can detect tears accurately by identifying signs of inflammation, fluid accumulation, or structural abnormalities.

Treatment options for patella tear

Treatment options for patellar tendon tears include surgery and physical therapy. Surgery is recommended for severe cases where the tendon is completely torn or significantly damaged. A minimally invasive procedure can reattach the damaged tendon to the kneecap using pins, sutures, and other surgical equipment. PT then plays a crucial role in restoring function to the knee joint. Targeted exercises strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve range of motion, and promote tendon healing, in a process lasting several months. Physical therapy can also reduce pain and swelling in the knee, improve body awareness, and enhance patients’ quality of life.

When to see your orthopedic doctor for knee pain

Severe, persistent, or worsening knee pain may indicate a serious underlying issue. Traumatic injuries, swelling, redness, or warmth in the knee joint are reasons to see an orthopedic doctor. With proper diagnosis, the issue is either patella tendonitis or a ligament tear. If conservative treatments do not improve knee pain after a few weeks, seek further medical attention. If the pain is from an immediate blow to the knee, proper diagnosis can lead to immediate surgery. Furthermore, regular monitoring and managing knee health are important for those with knee problems. Get support from an ortho to keep persistent kneecap pain at bay.

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