Patellar Tendonitis

Basketball players may develop patellar tendonitis.Patellar tendonitis is also called “jumper’s knee.”  It can develop in athletes who do repeated jumping as in basketball or volleyball and is also common in runners. The patellar tendon is a thick band of connective tissue that connects the knee cap to the shin bone. Its job is to straighten the knee.  It can become irritated and inflamed with overuse or misuse, and this causes pain on the surface of the knee.

Many issues may play a part in the development of patellar tendonitis.  Reasons that athletes may develop patellar tendonitis include:

  • Rapid increase in how often or how hard you train
  • Poor flexibility of the quadriceps and hamstring muscles
  • Poor strength of the quadriceps muscles
  • Muscle imbalances in the leg and the hips
  • Extremes of foot shape: high arch or flat feet

Patellar tendonitis develops over time with no specific injury.  The patellar tendon becomes inflamed and the athlete feels pain, often described as an ache, on the front surface of the knee.  The athlete will be tender directly over the tendon and may see swelling over the tendon.  At first the pain may only occur at the beginning or the end of exercise that involves running, jumping and squatting.  It also may occur during everyday activities like standing, prolonged sitting or using stairs.  

Patellar tendonitis is diagnosed by a thorough history and physical exam by your doctor.  Sometimes an X-ray is needed to rule out more serious causes of knee pain.  

Treatment usually consists of avoiding the activities that cause knee pain for a period of time. The length of time needed to rest can vary from days to weeks depending on the extent of the swelling. 

  • For swelling, apply ice to the area of pain daily. 
  • Your doctor may give you a short course of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) by mouth or topically (on the skin). 
  • The athlete will need to do gentle stretching and strengthening exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings and hip muscles. 
  • If symptoms persist, your doctor may suggest you see a physical therapist. 

When pain-free the athlete may slowly return to playing the sport while continuing the stretching and strengthening exercises.  

  • A knee brace, like a neoprene sleeve or a compression strap, can help support the knee. 
  • Heat before and ice after activities can be helpful.  

Athletes usually respond very well to the treatment for patellar tendonitis.   If left untreated, the patellar tendon can become thickened and more painful.  In severe cases the athlete is at risk for tearing the patellar tendon or needing surgery for cyst formation.  

Athletes can avoid tendonitis by gradually increasing exercise intensity and frequency.  Proper strengthening and stretching of the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles may also help. 

Exercises to try:

Straight leg raise:  Lie flat on the floor with one knee bent and the other knee straight.  Raise the straight knee off of the floor about 10 inches, tightening your quadriceps.  Hold this position for 5 seconds and then relax.  Repeat three sets of 10.

Quadriceps stretch: Lie face down on a flat surface.  Bend one knee and grab the same ankle behind your back.  Keep the thigh flat and you should feel a stretch in the front of the thigh (this is the quadriceps).  Hold for 30 seconds.  


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