Patellar tendinopathy, also known as jumper’s knee, is a knee injury that causes pain in the knee. This pain is typically caused by the repetitive strain of playing sports involving running and jumping, it causes localized pain in the bottom of the kneecap, and from the front of the knee.

The repetitive running or jumping in some sports can cause inflammation in an athlete’s patellar tendon, which results in jumper’s knee.  Over time, the repeated strain on the knee causes degeneration and inflammation.

Once an athlete has it, patellar tendonitis can be challenging to treat. Most people require a lengthy resting period during an intensive treatment and exhaustive rehabilitation program. For some athletes, even extreme therapy won’t help, and in those cases, surgery is required.

Here’s more about patellar tendonitis, symptoms, treatment, exercises, and surgery options.

What is Jumper’s Knee?

Most commonly seen in athletes, jumper’s knee is known as an overuse injury.  The patellar tendon also referred to as the patellar ligament, is what connects the kneecap or patella to the shin bone or tibia. When people jump, the large quadriceps located on the front of the thigh pull on the kneecap causing a considerable force through the patellar ligament. Sports that require a lot of jumping expose the kneecaps, tibias, and patella tendons to repetitive force.

While not everyone is susceptible to getting jumper’s knee, it is most commonly seen in individuals who have put a repeated strain on the patellar ligament. The repeated strain can cause collagen degeneration and micro-tears in the tendon, which eventually causes jumper’s knee.

Some people confuse jumper’s knee with a condition called patellar tendonitis. Patellar tendonitis is acute inflammation of the tendon, but tendinopathy (jumper’s knee) is actual degeneration of the patellar tendon.

One of the most significant differences between the two conditions is that patellar tendonitis is just inflammation and will, therefore, heal up after a few days of rest. Unfortunately, jumper’s knee requires more because of the degeneration of the tendon.

Even though patellar tendinopathy is caused by overuse, there are factors that can increase the risk of suffering from patellar tendinopathy. Here’s more about prevention efforts.

Reduce the Risk of Getting Jumper’s Knee

Whether you have already suffered from patellar tendonitis or patellar tendinopathy, or you are an athlete who wants to avoid suffering from it, there are some tips for prevention that can help.

Watch for Early Signs and Symptoms

One of the most critical steps to prevention is to be vigilant in watching for early signs of inflammation or pain. It is important to watch for first symptoms because when it becomes acute, the rehabilitation time becomes significantly longer.

Do Not Overdo Training

It is important to not overdo training. There are a lot of benefits to high impact training; however, it is important to find a balance that allows you to do the activities you want without overdoing them. High impact training puts a lot of strain on knees and can be too much for the patellar tendon.

Stretching and Massage

The importance of stretching cannot be overstated. Adequately stretched muscles are crucial to all athletic and workout activities. Stretching helps make muscles more flexible and loose so that they are capable of handling the strain.

Sports massages are an excellent option for proper care of tendons and muscles. It is a good idea for athletes to get regular massages but if not, finding a sports-focused massage therapist for when muscles and tendons are tight can be good too.

Identify Biomechanical Problems

There are some biomechanical problems, like loose kneecaps, overpronation in feet, or having a tight iliotibial band, that can increase the risk of jumper’s knee. Seeking the help of a professional can help you pinpoint any potential biomechanical problems and obtain advice on how to work with those issues.

Eccentric Strengthening

Eccentric strengthening exercises help make knee joints strong enough to cope with the repetitive use during sports. While some people don’t start doing exercises to strengthen knees until after they have experienced injury, they should be part of your regular training regimen to prevent damage.

Symptoms of Patellar Tendinopathy

Jumper’s knee causes consistent pain in the area at the bottom front part of the kneecap. If injured, the bottom of the patellar tendon will be sore to the touch and may look swollen in the wounded area compared to the rest of the kneecap.

Some of the initial pain will be stiffness or achiness after exercise, and some of the acute cases will be painful when the quadriceps muscles contract. If you notice kneecap pain during jumping activities, there is a chance an injury has already occurred.

Jumpers knee severity is rated on a 1-4 scale with one being mild pain after activity and four being constant pain. One of the most significant risks of this injury is that many people don’t realize the damage is serious because sometimes they only feel mild pain.

Because it isn’t always debilitating, there are many athletes who ignore the pain or don’t realize it is a significant injury. While it can sometimes be easy to mistake. It is essential to be vigilant with any kneecap pain because if the condition worsens, it may require more extensive treatment.  Recovery takes a long time.

Treatment of Jumper’s Knee

Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may vary slightly, but the ultimate goal is to reduce pain and inflammation first and then rehabilitate afterward.  

After the initial injury, the PRICE principle, protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation, are the first steps to treating jumper’s knee. For the first one to two days after injury, ice packs help.

Wearing a jumper’s knee strap will help minimize pain by reducing tendon strain. The strap is applied around the tendon, right below the knee. The strap helps change the part of the tendon that is exerted.

If you don’t have a jumper’s knee strap, there is a patella taping technique that will also similarly relieve tendon strain.

Depending on several factors, your medical professional may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medicine. There is controversy surrounding the long-term use of anti-inflammatory medication, so it is vital to research and discuss this with your doctor before taking it.

Electrotherapy is another treatment that is sometimes used. It is applied through a laser treatment or ultrasound and is used in the beginning stages of healing. Electrotherapy helps reduce inflammation to help heal the tendon.

For people who have a more chronic case of jumper’s knee, there are rehabilitation programs that offer eccentric strengthening and cross friction massage which may also help. While stretching, exercise, massages, and wrapping can help, there are times when surgery is necessary.

Surgery to Help with Healing

Depending on the surgeon’s preference and the injury, there are variances to the surgical procedures. Most of the time, a transverse incision over the patellar tendon is necessary for abnormal tissue to be removed.

While surgery is an option, it is typically a last resort because the success rate is only about sixty to eighty percent, and there’s a chance that a person who has surgery because of jumper’s knee will never be able to perform as they did before the injury. If the operation is successful though, the recovery time is about six months to a year.

Typically, surgery is only recommended after all non-surgical methods have been tried first. In many cases, the non-surgical treatment is enough, but sometimes it isn’t. While many factors determine the success of rehabilitation efforts, there are some reasons why jumper’s knee doesn’t heal adequately. Those reasons are:

  • Not doing eccentric strengthening exercises the right way.
  • Not completing enough strength training.
  • Trying to get back into training too soon.
  • Overworking the kneecap.
  • Giving up strength training after feeling better.

One of the biggest measures of successful healing without surgery is whether or not the athlete gives himself or herself enough time to heal. It is easy to get impatient with patellar tendinopathy because it takes a significant amount of time to heal.

Final Thoughts

Jumper’s knee, or patellar tendinopathy, is a painful knee injury that is caused from repetitive strain. It is most commonly seen in athletes who play sports like basketball, volleyball, or long jump. In some cases, soccer players and runners experience jumper’s knee too. Rarely, weightlifters and cyclists experience patellar tendinopathy.

The best way to prevent injury to your knees is by taking the time to thoroughly exercise and strengthen your knees and quadriceps. It is equally important to be vigilant in paying attention to aches and pains within your body, especially your knees.

Patellar tendinopathy is a tricky injury because the pain doesn’t always match the severity of the injury. It is essential that you pay attention to any frontal and lower kneecap pain and see a doctor for it when necessary. Inflammation of the patellar tendon, patellar tendonitis, is painful but does not take nearly as long to heal.

Jumper’s knee is a sports-induced injury that requires significant rehabilitation to heal.

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