Patellar tendonitis is also called “jumper’s knee.” It can develop in athletes who jump again and again, like in basketball or volleyball. It is also common in runners. The patellar tendon is a thick band of connective tissue that connects the kneecap to the shin bone. Its job is to straighten the knee. It can become irritated and inflamed when used too much or not in the right way. This causes pain on the surface of the knee.
What Causes Patellar Tendonitis?
Many issues may play a part in the development of patellar tendonitis in athletes. These 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
How Do I Know I May Have Patellar Tendonitis?
Patellar tendonitis happens over time with no specific injury. The patellar tendon becomes inflamed, and the athlete feels pain on the front surface of the knee. This pain is often described as an ache. The area directly over the tendon will be tender. It may be swollen. At first the pain may only happen at the start or the end of exercise that involves running, jumping and squatting. It also may happen during everyday actions like standing, sitting for a long time, or using stairs.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Patellar tendonitis is diagnosed by an in-depth history and exam by your doctor. Sometimes an X-ray is needed to rule out more severe causes of knee pain.
How Do I Treat Patellar Tendonitis?
Treatment most often consists of stopping the activities that cause knee pain for a certain timeframe. The length of time you need to rest can vary from days to weeks based on the extent of the swelling.
- For swelling, use ice on the area of pain each day.
- Your doctor may give you a short course of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAIDs) that you take by mouth or that is put on your skin.
- You will need to do gentle stretching and exercises to make the quadriceps, hamstrings and hip muscles stronger.
- If symptoms last, your doctor may suggest you see a physical therapist.
When pain-free you may slowly return to playing sports. During this time you must keep doing your exercises to stretch and strengthen your muscles.
- A knee brace, like a neoprene sleeve or a compression strap, can help support the knee.
- Heat before and ice after being active can be helpful.
What Is the Long-Term Outcome of Patellar Tendonitis?
Athletes often 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.
Can Patellar Tendonitis Be Prevented?
Athletes can avoid tendonitis by increasing exercise intensity and frequency slowly over time. 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 five 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.