Whether you’re a professional athlete, have a physically demanding job, or just live an active lifestyle, dealing with Patellar Tendonitis can be a serious setback. This form of tendinitis can happen to anyone, but it’s so common among athletes in sports like basketball, volleyball, soccer, and track and field that it’s often referred to as Jumper’s Knee.
The severity of the inflamed or injured patellar tendon will often determine what type of treatment is best and how long it will take for full recovery.
What is Jumper’s Knee (Patellar Tendonitis)?
Jumper’s Knee is a particular form of knee tendonitis that is caused by either injury or inflammation of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone.
There are a number of factors that can lead to the condition, with the most common being overuse of the knee joint during sports play, exercise, or in physically demanding vocations.
Over time, micro-tears in the patella tendon weaken the tissue and cause swelling and pain that range from minor to severely debilitating.
Unfortunately, the aging process is also an element with knee tendons, especially for people who have a long history of vigorous physical activity.
Other risk factors for Jumper’s Knee can include:
- Being overweight places pressure on the knee
- Unaligned legs, ankles, or feet
- Unequal leg strength that may come about from favoring the dominant leg
- Poorly padded or fitted shoes, along with regular physical activity on hard surfaces
- Chronic illness or disease that decreases tendon strength
It’s important to understand and recognize the signs and symptoms of jumper’s knee. This is because early on, pain or soreness in the knee may dissipate once a person’s body gets warmed up.
However, if left untreated the condition is likely to worsen and possibly lead to a more severe torn patellar tendon or patellar tendinopathy.
Symptoms of Jumper’s Knee
Aside from an obvious traumatic injury, the symptoms of jumper’s knee tend to be gradual, starting with soreness and pain at the base of the kneecap (patella bone). The area might also feel tender to the touch or feel warm like a burning sensation.
The aches and pains might be infrequent at first, only occurring after playing sports, exercising, or engaging in other physical activities.
However, with continued stress, micro-tears in the tendon will only grow more inflamed and lead to symptoms that are more acute.
More severe patellar tendinitis symptoms can include some of the following:
- Pain when kneeling or standing up, as well as during activities like walking, running, jumping, squatting or lifting heavy objects with your legs
- Swelling and tenderness of the patellar tendon
- Soreness or aches behind the lower part of the kneecap
- Difficulty straightening the legs without pain
- Continued stiffness, pain, and soreness even after a period without physical activity
Avoiding jumper’s knee treatment is not recommended. The symptoms can increasingly make simple movements or activities that people take for granted, extremely painful and difficult.
For professional athletes, untreated patellar tendonitis can even be career ending.
Patellar Tendonitis Treatment for Jumper’s Knee
As with other soft-tissue and tendonitis injuries, the first treatment approach for jumper’s knee is to severely limit or stop any activity that causes pain. The RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) can help reduce pain and inflammation, particularly in the earlier stages of the condition.
Receiving a diagnosis of patellar tendonitis or a patellar tendon tear requires a physical examination from a physician, along with a discussion about symptoms and recent or long-term physical activities and habits.
It is likely that a sports physician will perform an ultrasound to examine the soft-tissue, in combination with an MRI and x-rays to rule any other issues, such as a fractured or displaced kneecap.
Based on the severity of a person’s patellar tendon injury and inflammation, treatment options can include some of the following:
1. RICE Method
The RICE Method of treatment includes Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevating the injury. Resting the knee will allow it to heal, while ice, wrapping it in compression bandages, and elevating it above the heart on a pillow while lying down can reduce pain and swelling.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Pain Medications
Over-the-counter, nonsteroidal pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) can help reduce pain and swelling due to inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will help with pain but it won’t be effective for inflammation.
3. Steroid Injections
Corticosteroid injections may be prescribed for extreme pain and swelling. However, steroid injections are known to weaken and damage surrounding, healthy soft-tissue, so they can only be used sparingly and in moderation.
4. Shockwave Therapy for Jumper’s Knee
Shockwave Therapy, more formally known as Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) is a noninvasive procedure that delivers high impulse pressures waves to the injured patellar tendon.
This process uses a Shockwave machine to help increase blood flow, decrease damaged tissue, speed up the healing process, and improve recovery time.
Sometimes referred to as EPAT Therapy, this treatment method can also be performed to help athletes or others maintain high levels of performance while healing. This is because there is no anesthesia recovery time or any risk of infection, like with more invasive treatments.
5. Dry Needling
Dry needling, guided by an arthroscopic camera, is a process that makes tiny punctures in the tendon to remove destructive tissue and has been shown to help reduce pain and promote healing.
6. Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)
Platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) utilizes injections of a patient’s own platelet-rich plasma into the patellar tendon to promote healing. This is a new form of regenerative medicine using biologics to improve the quality of life for patients.
7. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy, often combined with shockwave therapy, is very useful for patellar tendonitis rehab. Physical therapy can involve learning patellar tendonitis exercises, proper warm-up and flexibility techniques, or massage therapy.
8. Patella Brace
Often times a physician or trainer will recommend a knee brace or KT Tape to stabilize the patella and keep it from moving when walking or performing exercises as part of a therapy program.
9. Surgery for Patellar Tendonitis
In extreme cases, where other therapies have failed, surgery can involve opening the affected area in order to scrape the kneecap and tendon of damaged tissue. There is, however, a longer recovery time and a number of risks associated with surgery.
Surgery is an option that should be considered carefully and with much discussion with a qualified orthopedic surgeon.
Jumper’s knee symptoms caused by patellar tendonitis can be painful and lead to more serious injury if not diagnosed early. Always speak with a doctor at the first signs of knee pain and ask about incorporating some of these treatment methods for a faster recovery.