Patellar Tendonitis, or Jumper's knee, is an extremely painful and frustrating injury that puts a big strain on the front of the knee joint, just below the knee cap.
Patellar tendonitis is very common among runners and cyclists, however it doesn't usually occur in an instant like a hamstring strain or groin pull, but commonly starts off as a twinge or niggle, and progresses quickly to debilitating knee pain that can sideline the best of us.
If you suffer from patellar tendonitis or are seeking to prevent its occurrence it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that's just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
What is Patellar Tendonitis?
As with all cases of tendonitis, patella tendonitis is simply the inflammation, degeneration or rupture of the patellar ligament and the tissue that surround it, leading to pain and discomfort in the area just below the knee cap.
|Patellar Tendonitis Ligament image from
Principles of Anatomy and Physiology.
Anatomy of the Knee
The picture to the right is a front-on view of the bones, tendons and ligaments that make up the knee joint. In the very center of the picture is the patella, or kneecap. The blue structure that runs downward from the patella to the tibia (shinbone) is the patella ligament.
On occasion you may hear of this structure being referred to as the patellar tendon, but for the purposes of anatomy and physiology this structure is a ligament, as it attaches the patella (knee cap) to the tibia (shin bone). Ligaments attach bone to bone, while tendons attach muscle to bone.
What causes Patellar Tendonitis?
Overuse is the major cause of patellar tendonitis. Activities that involve a lot of jumping or rapid change of direction are particularly stressful to the patellar ligament. Participants of basketball, volleyball, soccer, and other running related sports are particularly vulnerable to patellar tendonitis.
Patellar tendonitis can also be caused by a sudden, unexpected injury like a fall. Landing heavily on your knees can damage the patellar ligament, which can lead to patellar tendonitis.
What are the Signs & Symptoms of Patellar Tendonitis?
The major symptom of patellar tendonitis is pain in the area just below the kneecap. Activities like walking, running and especially squatting, kneeling or jumping will cause increased pain and discomfort. Swelling is also commonly associated with patellar tendonitis.
Patellar Tendonitis Treatment
Patellar tendonitis is just like any other soft tissue injury and should be treated accordingly. This involves the application of R.I.C.E.R. (R) rest, (I) ice, (C) compression, (E) elevation and obtaining a (R) referral for appropriate medical treatment. The following two points are of most importance.
How do you apply ice? Crushed ice in a plastic bag is usually best. However, blocks of ice, commercial cold packs and bags of frozen peas will all do fine. Even cold water from a tap is better than nothing at all.
When using ice, be careful not to apply it directly to the skin. This can cause "ice burns" and further skin damage. Wrapping the ice in a damp towel generally provides the best protection for the skin.
How long, how often? This is the point where few people agree. Let me give you some figures to use, as a rough guide, and then I will give you some advice from personal experience. The most common recommendation is to apply ice for 20 minutes every 2 hours for the first 48 to 72 hours.
These figures are a good starting point, but remember they are only a guide. You must take into account that some people are more sensitive to cold than others are. Also, be aware that children and elderly people have a lower tolerance to ice and cold. Finally, people with circulatory problems are also more sensitive to ice. Remember to keep these things in mind when treating yourself or someone else with ice.
Personally, I recommend that people use their own judgement when applying ice to them self. For some people, 20 minutes is too much. For others, especially well conditioned athletes, they can leave ice on for up to an hour at a time. The individual should make the decision as to how long the ice should stay on.
My personal recommendation is that people should apply ice for as long as it is comfortable. Obviously, there will be a slight discomfort from the cold, but as soon as pain or excessive discomfort is experienced, it is time to remove the ice. It is much better to apply ice for 3 to 5 minutes a couple of time an hour, than not at all.
During the first 24 to 72 hours after an injury, be sure to avoid any form of heat at the injury site. This includes heat lamps, heat creams, spas, Jacuzzi's and saunas. Avoid all movement and massage of the injured area. Also, avoid excessive alcohol. All these things will increase the bleeding, swelling and pain of your injury. Avoid them at all costs.
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Patellar Tendonitis Prevention
Although it is important to be able to treat patellar tendonitis, prevention should be your first priority. So what are some of the things you can do to help prevent patellar tendonitis?