Quadriceps tendonitis (or tendinopathy) is a term used to describe inflammation and irritation of the quadriceps tendon, a painful condition that can occur due to overuse or overdoing a specific activity. Anyone can be affected by this overuse injury, but athletes who perform repetitive or prolonged running, jumping, squatting or kicking movements are at particular risk, as these put excess stress and strain on the knees and legs.
Fortunately, most treatments for tendinopathy are conservative, and surgery is rarely required.
The PRICE Protocol
Often the best medicine for quadriceps tendonitis is to follow the PRICE regimen for the first 72 hours immediately following injury or as soon as inflammation becomes noticeable. Protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation can work together to bring swelling down and relieve pain.
Once pain is no longer present when the leg is at rest, physical therapy can be beneficial. A therapist can use ice massage, ultrasound and electrical stimulation to keep discomfort and swelling under control. Stretching, strengthening and flexibility exercises can correct imbalances and help patients gain more stability in their quadriceps.
Easing Back into Sports Activity
In the final stages of rehabilitation from quadriceps tendinopathy, patients can begin a gradual return to sports activities. This should be guided by the treating physical therapist or physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. Easing back into activity is essential, as the tendons become slightly brittle during the weeks of minimal exercise.
Patients who jump right back into their chosen activities instead of taking a gradual approach are likely to develop tendonitis again quite easily.
Preventing Future Quadriceps Tendonitis
Coaches, trainers, physical therapists and sports medicine doctors often work together to design an effective training program that doesn’t compromise the quadriceps tendon or the surrounding tissues.
Patient education is key to preventing quadriceps tendinopathy. When patients understand proper training techniques and come to recognize their physical limitations, sports injury is less of a risk.
Wearing proper footwear is also important — different sports require different types of foot and ankle support. For some patients, orthotics, or special shoe inserts, can be beneficial.
Why Quadriceps Tendonitis Needs Treatment
Athletes need to take the time to heal completely before returning to training. Getting back to sports too early stresses the quadriceps tendon beyond the point it can handle. With overuse, micro-tears can develop in the tendon, leading to further inflammation and pain.
Without treatment, the tendon damage can become severe. In extreme cases, it may even rupture.
Taking conservative measures can help most patients avoid surgery. When surgery is required, the procedure can often be done arthroscopically on an outpatient basis.
For more specific advice on preventing and treating quadriceps tendonitis, patients should visit a local sports medicine or physical medicine and rehabilitation physician.