Patellar tendonitis — also called jumper’s knee — is a common overuse injury in athletes. It happens when the tendons connecting the kneecap to the shinbone become inflamed and painful.

Repetitive motions, such as running and jumping, can aggravate the tendons connecting the kneecap and shinbone. When these tendons undergo repetitive strain, a person can develop tendonitis. This is a common condition that causes pain in an injured tendon.

Usually, people can manage tendonitis with rest, ice, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. If these home treatment options do not relieve symptoms, a person may need to contact a doctor.

Read more about what causes patellar tendonitis, stretches and exercises to treat it, and more.

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Tendons are strong, flexible bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. They help a person move their limbs and joints.

If someone overuses or places too much strain on a tendon, tiny tears can develop, which can cause pain and inflammation.

In patellar tendonitis, a person injures the tendons connecting the kneecap and shinbone. It is common in people doing sports that involve repetitive running and jumping. Patellar tendonitis is also called:

  • patellar tendinosis
  • patellar tendinopathy
  • jumper’s knee

Patellar tendonitis develops gradually. The condition becomes more severe each time the tendon is overstressed, so it is essential for a person to rest their knee after each injury. This will give the body time to heal.

Treatment for patellar tendonitis usually focuses on reducing pain and inflammation.

First, a person should stop any activities that could worsen the injury, giving the body time to heal. This means they should avoid any activities that may have contributed to the injury, such as jumping and high-impact sports.

They should also rest the affected leg, apply ice to the area, and take OTC anti-inflammatory medication. These measures can reduce swelling, which can lessen pain.

If home treatment measures do not resolve a person’s symptoms — or the tendonitis returns — they may need to contact a doctor. They can recommend further treatment depending on the injury, a person’s age, and activity level.

Small or partial tears may require rest and rehabilitation exercises. However, if someone’s injury is more serious, a doctor may suggest wearing a knee brace for 3–6 weeks. This will immobilize the joint, allowing the tendon to heal.

Physical therapy can help to gradually restore movement as the tendon heals. A physical therapist may also recommend strengthening and stretching exercises people can do at home.

Additionally, a physical therapist can help prevent re-injury by finding the cause of the tendonitis. To do this, they can examine a person’s movement patterns and determine why the tendons are being overloaded. For instance, if a person has weak hips, the knees may take more of the impact when running or jumping, which can cause pain.

In rare cases, untreated tendonitis can lead to a complete tendon tear. If this happens, a person may need surgery to reattach the tendon to the bone.

If a person has patellar tendonitis, they may want to contact a doctor or physical therapist to recommend exercises. Doing the wrong exercises, or doing too much too soon, can cause further damage. People should be careful to do gentle exercises and progress slowly.

Some examples of exercises that may be helpful include:

Seated hamstring stretch

Image credit: Active body, creative mind

Sitting on the floor, stretch one leg straight in front. Keeping the leg straight and toes pointed upwards, gently lean towards the foot. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat on both sides.

Quad stretch

Image credit: Dima Bazak

With one hand on a wall or chair for support, grasp one ankle and gently pull it towards the buttocks. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Slowly release the foot and repeat on the other side.

Alternatively, a person can practice a prone quad stretch by lying on their stomach and gently pulling their heel to their buttocks.

Squats

Image credit: Dima Bazak

Standing with the feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping the back straight, slowly bend the knees while engaging the glutes. Go as low as is comfortable. Repeat 8–10 times.

Alternatively, a person can try a decline squat by placing their heels on a small block or thick book. This takes some of the strain off the patellar tendons when performing a squat.

Supine leg lifts

Image credit: Active body, creative mind

Lay on the back with the legs extended up straight. Slowly lower one leg while keeping the knee straight, then activate the quads to lift the leg.

Repeat 5 times on each side.

Repetitive activities are usually the cause of patellar tendonitis. It is common in people who play sports that involve running and jumping. For example, a 2017 German study found that around 13% of young soccer players experienced patellar tendonitis.

Suddenly increasing a person’s training volume, running or jumping on hard surfaces such as concrete, and exercising too much can also cause tendonitis.

The main symptom of patellar tendonitis is a dull pain just below the kneecap. There may also be swelling and tenderness around the knee. At first, a person’s symptoms may be mild, only occurring during intense exercise. However, they can worsen over time.

If patellar tendonitis goes untreated, a person may risk a tendon tear. A large tear of the patella tendon is a serious injury, and a complete tear will separate the tendon from the kneecap. They may hear a tearing or popping sound and feel significant pain.

It is important not to ignore ongoing knee pain or discomfort. Identifying patellar tendonitis early means the condition will be easier and quicker to treat, reducing a person’s risk of serious injury.

A doctor or physical therapist will diagnose this condition by doing a physical exam. They may put some gentle pressure on the knee and test its range of motion. Additionally, they might ask about a person’s symptoms and how long they have been experiencing pain.

There are several ways to diagnose patellar tendonitis, so a person’s experience may vary. Doctors commonly use ultrasound to identify the condition and look for any serious tendon damage. They may order an MRI to get a detailed picture of a person’s injury in more severe cases.

After an individual has recovered from patellar tendonitis, they can take steps to prevent future injuries.

Anyone who plays a sport involving repetitive running and jumping can reduce their risk of injury by:

  • warming up and stretching before exercise
  • cooling down and stretching after exercise
  • wearing knee support when playing sports
  • doing exercises to strengthen the leg muscles and support the knees
  • avoiding jumping and landing on very hard surfaces, such as concrete

Recovery time for patellar tendonitis varies. It depends on how severe a person’s injury is, their overall health and age, and how they treat the condition.

If a person has mild tendonitis, they may be able to return to their normal activities in 3 weeks. In more severe cases, it may take 3 months or more to recover.

Some people have ongoing knee pain even after recovering from patellar tendonitis. Although pain is usually mild and manageable, persistent tendonitis can prevent a person from doing certain sports.

Patellar tendonitis can develop gradually, so it can be difficult to recognize at first. Anyone with ongoing discomfort or knee pain should contact a doctor to evaluate their knee.

Resting and bracing the knee gives a tendon time to heal. In most cases, mild patellar tendonitis heals in a few weeks. If the pain continues, a doctor or physical therapist can recommend further treatment options.

Patellar tendonitis is a common knee injury among athletes. Repetitive running and jumping damage the patellar tendon, causing pain and inflammation.

The best treatment is to rest and avoid activities that might worsen the damage. Doctors may also recommend physical therapy exercises, modifying activities, ice and heat, and painkillers.