Patellar tendonitis, patellar tendiopathy or jumpers knee is an inflammatory response to injury to the patellar tendon. This tendon connects the knee cap (or patella) to the shin bone. The knee is one of the largest joints on the body and provides stability and support for the weight of the body. There are 3 long bones and the patella cap which meet at the knee and allow a smooth bending motion.
Unfortunately, this is a relatively common injury in athletes who must jump frequently in their sport, such as basketball players, gymnasts, volleyball players and track and field athletes have a higher risk of developing the condition. Jumpers knee is an overuse injury, or repetitive stress injury to the tendon. Microtears happen in the tendon and don’t heal between events.
Symptoms will often come on gradually and not suddenly. The athlete can experience pain and swelling below the kneecap, increased pain when straightening the leg, getting up from sitting or going up and down the stairs. The pain in the knee cap area will also increase with physical activity and not get better with activity.
Treatment for the condition requires rest for at least 2 weeks and more often 4 to 6 weeks for full healing. Rest should be continued until the symptoms have completely disappeared. The athlete should also incorporate R.I.C.E. The acronym stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Rest for at least 2 weeks. Ice the knee 2-3 times daily for 15 minutes for about a week to speed healing. You can incorporate compression using a compression bandage on the knee and elevating the leg above the level of the heart to help reduce swelling while icing.
After the initial weeks of healing, the more important part of the process is rehabilitation. Depending upon the extent of the damage, rehabilitation can take between 2 weeks to several months. Your physical therapist will give you exercises to do at home and to do prior to returning to your athletic activities. In the office they can use ultrasound to help reduce pain and speed the healing process. They will also teach you cross friction massage to aid in healing and reducing the formation of adhesions.
When the condition is chronic or refractory, you may have to consider surgery to be pain free. Research published in the International Orthopedics journal found that those athletes who used a platelet-rich plasmaa injections for the treatment of jumpers knee had satisfactory clinical outcomes with surgical intervention. (1)
Once the pain and swelling have disappated, it’s time to start back to your athletic activities. Prior to beginning any rehabilitation exercise you should begin by gently stretching the quadricep and hamstring muscles to increase flexibility. This improves the ability of the joint to withstand the stress of jumping by being able to move through the appropriate range of motion.
Begin by cross training in sports that do not use the joint for jumping, such as swimming. You can even run in the pool to keep your cardio and muscle development without placing additional stress on the knee. Schedule days off and give your body time to heal and regenerate. Wear sport specific shoes and do weight training to improve the strength of the quadricep and hamstring muscles to improve the stability of the knee joint.
(1) International Orthopedics: use of Platelet-Rich Plasma for the treatment of Refractory Jumper’s Knee
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