MR imaging of the quadriceps femoris tendon: distal tear characterization and clinical significance of rupture types

Eur Radiol. 2021 Oct;31(10):7674-7683. doi: 10.1007/s00330-021-07912-y. Epub 2021 Apr 16.


Objective: To characterize quadriceps femoris tendon tears on magnetic resonance (MR) imaging regarding tear extent, location, and presence of bony avulsion.

Materials and methods: IRB approval was obtained and informed consent was waived for this retrospective case series. Electronic medical records from all patients in our hospital system were searched for keywords: knee MR imaging, and quadriceps tendon rupture or tear. MRI studies were randomized and independently evaluated by two fellowship-trained musculoskeletal radiologists. MR imaging was used to characterize each individual quadriceps tendon as having tendinosis, tear (location, partial versus complete, size, and retraction distance), and bony avulsion. Knee radiographs were reviewed for presence or absence of bony avulsion. Descriptive statistics and inter-reader reliability (Cohen's Kappa and Wilcoxon-signed-rank test) were calculated.

Results: Fifty-two patients with 53 quadriceps tears were evaluated (45 males, 7 females; mean age: 51 ± 13 years). The vastus intermedius (VI) tendon more often incurred a partial rather than a complete tear (39.6% vs. 37.7%), while the rectus femoris (RF), vastus medialis (VM), and vastus lateralis (VL) incurred complete tears more commonly (64.2-66%). Subjects with bony avulsion on radiographs had higher-grade tears of the RF, VM, and VL tears (p = 0.020-0.043) but not the VI. Most tendons tore at or immediately proximal to the patella (84.8-93.6%). Gaps in retracted torn tendons measured between 2.3 and 2.7 cm. Inter-reader reliability was substantial to almost perfect (κ = 0.624-0.953).

Conclusion: Quadriceps femoris tendon tears most commonly involve the RF or VL/VM layers usually in proximity to the patella. A bony avulsion correlates with a more extensive tear.

Key points: • Quadriceps femoris tendon tears most commonly involve the rectus femoris or vastus lateralis/vastus medialis layers. • A rupture of the quadriceps femoris tendon usually occurs in proximity to the patella. • A bony avulsion of the patella correlates with a more extensive tear of the superficial and middle layers of the quadriceps tendon.

Keywords: Knee; Magnetic resonance imaging; Quadriceps muscle; Rupture; Tendons.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quadriceps Muscle* / diagnostic imaging
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tendons*