Patellar tendonitis (jumper's knee): Treatment and recovery
The knee is made up of several parts, which can make it easy to injure. If a person feels pain or soreness around the knee, it is a good idea to rest and avoid intense exercise.
Consult a doctor or physical therapist about ongoing knee pain or discomfort.
What is patellar tendonitis?
The patella tendon is located at the front of the knee.
Patellar tendonitis occurs when the patella tendon is overstressed, which can happen when jumping or landing heavily.
The condition is often called jumper's knee.
Patella is the medical term for the kneecap, and the patella tendon connects the kneecap to the shinbone.
Tendons are made up of strong tissue and join muscles to bones.
If a person applies extra stress to a tendon, tiny tears can develop in the tissue. This causes inflammation, but the injury often heals quickly. However, repeated strains may cause tears to develop faster than the body can mend them.
Patellar tendonitis develops gradually. The condition becomes more severe each time the tendon is overstressed, so it is essential to rest the knee after each injury. This will give the body time to heal.
Patellar tendonitis has several other names:
- patellar tendinosis
- patellar tendinitis
- patellar tendinopathy
- jumper's knee
Tendinosis describes the gradual damage that repeated movement or ageing causes in a tendon. It is common in the knee, wrist, and elbow.
Tendonitis and tendinitis refer to inflammation of the tendon. An inflamed tendon is very rarely the cause of knee pain.
While research suggests that patellar tendinosis is a more accurate term, patellar tendonitis is still the one most commonly used.
Activites that involve jumping frequently, such as basketball, may increase the risk of patellar tendonitis.
Patellar tendonitis is usually caused when repeated activities gradually damage the knee.
It often affects athletes who jump and land heavily, such as basketball players.
Other activities that can increase the risk of patellar tendonitis include suddenly doing more exercise, or training on hard surfaces such as concrete.
The condition is most common in people in their teens, 20s, and 30s.
People who are taller and heavier may have a greater risk, as more weight can increase the pressure on the knees.
The main symptom of patellar tendonitis is pain and tenderness just below the kneecap.
The pain usually starts after exercise, and continued exercise will likely increase the discomfort. Jumping, running, and landing are likely to make the pain worse.
A person may begin to notice weakness in the knee, particularly during exercises that put pressure on this part of the body.
When the leg is straight, the area below the knee may feel tender when touched. The area around the knee can also feel tight or stiff, particularly first thing in the morning.
A large tear of the patella tendon is a serious injury, and a complete tear will separate the tendon from the kneecap. A person may hear a tearing or popping sound, and will feel significant pain. The knee may also swell and bruise. Walking may be difficult and a person may be unable to straighten the leg.
Ongoing knee pain or discomfort should not be ignored. Treating patellar tendonitis early can ensure a quick and complete recovery.
A doctor or physical therapist will diagnose this condition, after asking about symptoms, medical history and exercise routines. They will also perform an examination, during which a person may be asked to move or straighten their leg. The doctor will gently press the area round the knee, as the tendon often feels thicker on the affected side.
The doctor may also request magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or an X-ray to examine a serious tear and to determine whether the kneecap is in the right position.
Applying ice to the area may help to treat symptoms of patellar tendonitis.
Treatment for patellar tendonitis is usually focused on pain reduction. A person will need to rest the affected leg, apply ice to the area, and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.
Further treatment will depend on the injury, a person's age, and how active they are. Small or partial tears can often be treated with rest and gentle exercises.
A doctor may suggest wearing a knee brace to keep the knee straight and help the tendon to heal.
A person should wear the brace for 3 to 6 weeks and may need to use crutches to support their weight.
Physical therapy can help to gradually restore movement as the tendon heals. A physical therapist may also recommend strengthening and stretching exercises to do at home.
A complete tear may require surgery, to reattach the tendon to the kneecap. Complete recovery may take 6 months.
After a person has recovered from patellar tendonitis, they can take steps to try and prevent future injuries.
Anyone who plays a sport in which jumping and hard landings are common, they can take the same steps to avoid getting injured in the first place.
Some ways to prevent patellar tendonitis include:
- 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
Patellar tendonitis can develop gradually, so it is not always easy to recognize. Anyone with ongoing discomfort or pain in the knee should see a doctor for a diagnosis.
Resting and bracing the knee gives a tendon time to heal. If pain continues, a doctor or physical therapist can recommend further treatment options.