Patellar Tendinitis is a condition commonly called "Jumper's Knee." Jumpers knee describes pain around the patella or knee cap. The tendon connects the quadriceps muscle to patella and then patella to the tibia or shin bone. Contraction of the quadriceps muscle causes the lower leg to extend through the patella tendon. Activities that involve kicking, jumping, or explosion rely on quick and forceful contraction of the quadriceps muscle for power. These forceful activities are common in sports involving jumping, thus the term jumpers knee. However, Patellar Tendonitis can occur in any activity that involves contraction of the quadriceps, including running, biking, skiing, or climbing.
Symptoms of Patella Tendonitis
Pain and stiffness are usually the first sign of jumper's knee. The pain can be sharp during the activity, especially when jumping or landing. Certain side-to-side motions can cause a sharp stabbing pain. Afterwards, the pain is usually dull and the knee feels stiff. The pain is usually located between the knee cap (patella) and where the tendon attaches to the shinbone (tibia). Usually, the pain can be localized to an exact location.
Causes of "Jumper's Knee"
Patella Tendonitis usually occurs after increasing activity or intensity of exercise. For example, playing more basketball, jumping rope, or lifting weights can cause Jumper's Knee. It is common in Arizona when beginning to run trails at South Mountain or running trails a couple days a week. In endurance athletes, it is an overuse injury. The repetitive nature of running or cycling slowly stresses the tendon and leads to tendonitis. The repetitive stress causes small tears in the tendon that the body is unable to heal before the next activity. Eventually the small tears lead to tendonitis.
As previously mentioned, patellar tendonitis is common in athletes who increase their intensity or frequency of activities. Other factors that can cause patellar tendonitis include increased body weight, patella alta, and muscular imbalance. The muscular imbalance causes the patella to track, or glide, differently. Instead of traveling smoothly across the patella fossa, the muscle imbalance pulls the patella to the side, causing it to rub against the bone. This is especially common in people who have chondromalacia patella and patellar tendonitis at the same time.
Home therapy for Jumpers Knee
At home, ice and rest will allow the patellar tendon to heal. Two weeks of decreasing the intensity and frequency of activity can resolve the pain in many circumstances. Decreasing explosion, jumping, or climbing activities provide the greatest relief. Runners should find flat ground and cyclists should double-check their position on the bike. For cyclists, it might be an indicator to get a bike fitting or to check your form.
When to Seek Treatment for Patellar Tendonitis
Pain that has continued for several weeks after rest or is increasing should be cause for concern. A physical exam can usually identify the problem, though sometimes advanced imaging may be ordered if the provider is concerned about internal knee damage.
Treatment involves decreasing the pain, managing muscle spasms, and lowering inflammation. Muscle imbalances are evaluated at this time. Exercises and stretches are given to correct imbalances and prevent future occurrences. A patellar tendon strap can be used to decrease the pressure on the patella, allowing it to heal faster.
Mild cases of patella tendonitis can easily be treated. The more severe the case, the longer and more involved treatment becomes. In severe cases, the tendon can actually tear.
As with any physical exercise or activity, slowly increase the intensity and frequency of activity. Increasing the amount of exercise by less than 10% per week will prevent most overuse injuries. Ice and rest are also important to prevent overuse injuries.
Patellar Tendonitis can be easily treated by an experienced provider. Seek help before mild cases become severe injuries.