Patellar Tendonitis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Doing repetitive actions such as running and jumping can strain the tendons that link your kneecap to your shinbone. This might cause tendonitis, a usual problem that makes the affected tendon hurt.

Usually, you can ease tendonitis with rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medicine. If these things don’t help, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

If you want to know more about what causes patellar tendonitis and how to treat it, keep reading.

What is Patellar Tendonitis?

Patellar tendonitis is a common problem where the tendon connecting your kneecap to your shinbone gets inflamed or injured. This can cause different levels of pain, from a little discomfort to severe pain.

It’s often called “jumper’s knee” because it’s common among athletes who do a lot of jumping, like volleyball and basketball players. About 14.4 percent of recreational volleyball players get jumper’s knee, and it’s even more common among pro athletes, with around 40 to 50 percent of professional volleyball players having this condition.

What causes patellar tendonitis?

Patellar tendonitis happens when your knee gets stressed repeatedly, usually from lots of sports or exercise. This stress makes tiny tears in the tendon, which then get inflamed and weaken the tendon over time.

There are some things that can make you more likely to get patellar tendonitis, like:

  1. Tight leg muscles.
  2. Uneven leg muscle strength.
  3. Feet, ankles, or legs that aren’t lined up right.
  4. Being overweight.
  5. Wearing shoes that don’t have enough cushioning.
  6. Playing on hard surfaces.
  7. Having health conditions that weaken the tendon.

People who do sports, especially ones that involve running, jumping, or squatting, are more at risk for patellar tendonitis. For example, when you run, your knees can feel a force up to five times your body weight.

And if you train really hard for sports, like volleyball, for a long time, you’re more likely to get it. A study in 2014 found that how often you jump is a big risk factor for this condition.

What are the symptoms of patellar tendonitis?

The main sign of patellar tendonitis is pain below your kneecap. It starts as a dull ache after physical activities like sports or exercise and can become sharp during these activities. Eventually, it may even make everyday tasks like standing or using stairs difficult.

Other common signs include:

  1. Pain and tenderness in your knee or behind your kneecap
  2. Swelling
  3. Trouble with activities like jumping, running, or walking
  4. Pain when bending or straightening your leg

If you have these symptoms, it’s best to see a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis.

Who is more likely to get patellar tendonitis?

Several factors can affect your chances of getting patellar tendonitis:

  1. Age: People aged 40 and older have a higher risk compared to younger individuals. This condition usually develops slowly over time.

  2. Athletic involvement: Competitive or elite athletes who do intense and frequent training are more prone to patellar tendonitis because of the extra strain on their muscles and tendons.

  3. Type of physical activity: If you do activities that involve lots of jumping, sprinting, or sudden, quick movements, you might have a higher chance of developing patellar tendonitis.

Which activities can increase the risk of getting patellar tendonitis?

Participating in sports and exercises that put a lot of strain on your knee, like jumping over and over, can make you more likely to develop patellar tendonitis. These activities include:

  • Basketball
  • Dance
  • Figure skating
  • Football
  • Gymnastics
  • Running
  • Track events like long jump and high jump
  • Volleyball

How is patellar tendonitis diagnosed?

To diagnose patellar tendonitis, a doctor or physical therapist will:

  1. Do a physical exam by gently checking your knee, its movement, and asking about your symptoms and how long you’ve had pain.

  2. Often use ultrasound to identify the condition and assess tendon damage.

  3. In severe cases, order an MRI for a detailed view of the injury.

Don’t ignore persistent knee pain! Early detection makes treatment easier and lowers the risk of serious injury.

What’s the usual treatment for Patellar Tendonitis?

The treatment for Patellar Tendonitis depends on how bad it is. Here are the main options:

  1. Rest and Exercises: At first, rest your leg, do exercises to make your leg muscles stronger, and avoid activities that strain your knee.

  2. Medication: Your doctor might suggest over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen to help with pain and swelling. In more severe cases, they might use corticosteroid shots, but those have risks.

  3. Physical Therapy: This helps reduce pain and swelling while making your leg muscles stronger and more flexible. Therapists might use things like ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and knee braces. They’ll create a customized exercise plan with stretches, isometric exercises, eccentric exercises, and flexibility routines.

  4. New Treatments: Some newer treatments are being tested, like platelet-rich plasma injections, dry needling with ultrasound guidance, polidocanol injections, high-volume ultrasound-guided injections, hyperthermia thermotherapy, and extracorporeal shockwave therapy. These might be an option if the usual treatments don’t work.

  5. Surgery: If nothing else works, your doctor might suggest surgery. Traditional surgery involves a bigger incision to fix the knee cap and tendon, while arthroscopic surgery uses smaller incisions and has a quicker recovery. Recovery time after surgery varies depending on the type of surgery.

It’s essential to talk to your doctor to figure out the right treatment plan for your specific condition and symptoms. Usually, a combination of these approaches is used to effectively manage and heal Patellar Tendonitis.

Recovery Time for Patellar Tendonitis

The time it takes to recover from patellar tendonitis depends on:

  1. How bad the injury is.
  2. Your overall health and age.
  3. How you treat it.

If it’s not too bad, you could be back to normal in about 3 weeks. But if it’s more serious, it might take 3 months or even longer.

Keep in mind that even after recovering, some people might still have some mild knee pain. It’s usually not a big deal, but it could limit what sports or activities you can do.

How can I prevent patellar tendonitis?

To reduce your risk of getting patellar tendonitis while playing sports or doing physical activities, follow these simple steps:

  1. Proper gear: Make sure your athletic gear, including shoes and clothing, fits you well and suits your body type.

  2. Stretching: Spend at least five minutes stretching your major muscle groups before you start any activity. Regular stretching makes your muscles and tendons more flexible, lowering the chance of injuries.

  3. Gradual warm-up: Don’t push yourself too hard right from the beginning. Start with a good warm-up to prepare your muscles for action and decrease the risk of injury.

FAQs about Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper’s Knee)

1. What’s another name for patellar tendonitis?

Patellar tendonitis is also called jumper’s knee. This name comes from the strain the knee experiences during activities that involve jumping.

2. How long does patellar tendonitis last?

Mild patellar tendonitis can often get better in about six weeks with the right treatment and rest. More severe cases that require physical therapy may take several months for complete recovery, but you may start feeling better within a few weeks.

3. Does patellar tendonitis go away?

Yes, with the right treatments, patellar tendonitis can usually be resolved. Your doctor or physical therapist may recommend exercises to strengthen and improve flexibility to help prevent it from coming back.

4. Is swimming good for patellar tendonitis?

Swimming, especially strokes that use a flutter kick, is a good exercise that doesn’t strain the patellar tendon. If you can swim without feeling pain, it’s an excellent way to stay active while managing patellar tendonitis.

5. Can I run with patellar tendonitis?

Running with patellar tendonitis might be possible, but you need to make some adjustments:

  • Do a proper warm-up, focusing on your quad muscles.
  • Avoid running uphill, as it adds stress to your knee.
  • Reduce the intensity to prevent pain.
  • Maintain an upright posture when running to reduce strain on the knee.
  • Increase heel lift when pushing off to distribute your body weight evenly.
  • Increase your steps-per-minute to avoid overextending your stride. If you experience pain after running, take a break and apply ice.

6. When should I see a doctor for my knee pain?

If self-care measures like rest and icing don’t relieve your knee pain, and the symptoms persist or worsen over time, you may schedule an appointment with our online pain management consultation

Need professional help to relieve chronic pain? Book an online consultation with physical therapist Dr. Olivia Patel.

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I'm Dr. Olivia Patel, a physical therapist specializing in helping people with neck, back, and knee pain. Instead of resorting to invasive treatments or surgeries, I use natural and non-invasive remedies to help my clients alleviate their agonizing pain and regain the joy of living a pain-free life. If you're interested in learning about my approach, click the button below to schedule a call with me.