The quadriceps tendon attaches your quadriceps muscles to your kneecap (patella). It works to straighten your knee, which helps you walk, jump, and climb stairs.

If the tendon becomes inflamed, it’s called quadriceps tendinitis or quadriceps tendinopathy. It’s sometimes spelled as tendonitis, too.

It’s often a result of repetitive movements like jumping or kneeling. This overuse leads to tiny tears, which cause pain and swelling.

The injury often affects athletes, like volleyball and basketball players. However, any active person can develop quadriceps tendinitis. The risk is higher if you suddenly increase your physical activity.

Read on to learn about causes and symptoms of quadriceps tendinitis, along with how it’s treated.

Quadriceps tendinitis causes pain in the front of your knee, just above the kneecap. Usually, the pain is dull and gradually increases over time.

The pain may get worse after sitting down for too long or jumping, squatting, and running.

In some people, the pain might go away during activity and return when movement stops.

Other symptoms include:

The most common cause of quadriceps tendinitis is overuse. This occurs when the tendon repeatedly moves in a specific way, which leads to small tears.

Normally, your body tries to fix these tears. But if you continue repeating the same movement, more tears will develop.

Repeated actions can also cause quadriceps tendinitis, like:

  • sports
  • trauma, like jumping on a hard surface
  • sudden increase in physical activity
  • poor posture
  • poor walking habits

Any active person can get quadriceps tendinitis. But the risk is higher in athletes, especially if you:

  • run on hard surfaces
  • play jumping sports, like volleyball and basketball
  • exercise without warming up
  • exercise without enough recovery time
  • repeatedly squat or kneel

Other factors that increase your risk include:

  • Age. As you get older, the tendons become less flexible and more prone to inflammation.
  • Weight. Excess body weight puts extra stress on the tendons.
  • Tight muscles. Tight hamstrings and quad muscles increase pressure on your tendons.
  • Chronic disease. Some diseases, like lupus and diabetes, reduce blood supply to the knee. This weakens the tendons and increases the risk of tendinitis.
  • Alignment problems. If your joints or bones aren’t properly aligned, one leg will be placed under more stress. Muscular imbalances can have a similar effect.

Your doctor will use various tests to diagnose quadriceps tendinitis. This may include:

  • Physical exam. At your appointment, your doctor will visually inspect your knee and the surrounding areas. They’ll check for tenderness, swelling, and pain.
  • Medical history. This helps your doctor understand what might have caused the injury.
  • Imaging tests. You might need to get an MRI or ultrasound. These tests take detailed images of your knee tendons.

After your doctor determines the severity of your injury, they’ll create a personalized treatment plan. Usually, treatment involves a combination of methods.

Nonsurgical treatment

Treatment typically starts with conservative methods. This involves nonsurgical treatments.

RICE

The first-line treatment for quadriceps tendinitis is a method called RICE. This treatment involves:

  • Rest. To protect the injured area, you’ll need to limit movements that overwork your knees. You may need a brace to stabilize your knee.
  • Ice. Applying ice or a cold compress can reduce swelling and pain.
  • Compression. A compression bandage will also decrease swelling.
  • Elevation. To further minimize swelling, place your injured knee on a raised surface.

Physical therapy

Once the swelling gets better, your doctor may suggest you visit a physical therapist. They can provide treatments like:

Quadriceps tendinitis exercises

A physical therapist can show you how to safely do quadriceps tendinitis exercises.

These exercises involve moves that strengthen your hamstrings and hips, which support your knee tendons. They also include exercises for increasing flexibility of your quadriceps tendon and surrounding muscles.

Quadriceps tendinitis taping and bracing

To off-load the stress on your tendon, a physiotherapist or physical therapist may apply athletic tape on your knee. Taping reduces knee pain by stabilizing the kneecap.

Another option is a knee brace, which helps off-load stress on your tendon.

Orthotics

Orthotic devices are shoe inserts that support the foot. They help treat tendinitis by reducing the pressure on your knee tendons.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend a store-bought or custom-made orthotic insert.

Anti-inflammatory medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are over-the-counter pain relievers. You can use the following NSAIDs to treat tendinitis pain:

  • ibuprofen
  • naproxen
  • aspirin

Speak to your doctor about whether it’s OK for you to take NSAIDs. Your doctor may suggest taking acetaminophen instead of an NSAID.

Your doctor may also suggest local corticosteroid injections, which your doctor injects into your knee.

Quadriceps tendon surgical repair

Most people with quadriceps tendinitis don’t need surgery. But if nonsurgical treatments don’t work, or if your injury is severe, you might need surgical repair.

During surgery, a surgeon will remove the damaged portion of your tendon. Surgical options include the following procedures:

  • Open surgery involves a single large incision.
  • Arthroscopic surgery uses small incisions, a tiny video camera, and mini surgical instruments. It’s less invasive than open surgery.
  • Percutaneous ultrasonic tendon debridement uses ultrasonic energy to remove damaged tissue.

Quadriceps tendinitis recovery depends on various factors, including your:

  • age
  • overall health
  • severity of injury
  • treatment plan

With nonsurgical treatment, mild tendinitis usually gets better in a few weeks. You can slowly return to physical activity at this point.

But if you’ve had the injury for a while, it can take 6 to 12 weeks before you feel better.

If you need surgery, recovery may take 6 to 9 months. You’ll need to avoid weight-bearing activities during the first 6 weeks. As your mobility improves, you can slowly start strengthening exercises. You should be able to gradually return to athletic activity after 7 months.

While anyone can get quadriceps tendinitis, athletes have a higher risk. The repeated movements of jumping, running, and squatting can inflame the quadriceps tendon.

Quadriceps tendinitis often gets better within several weeks. For best results, get lots of rest and follow a physical therapist’s recommendations.