When you think about the type of knee injuries often seen in runners, what comes to mind?
But what about the lesser-known, bust as a notorious and painful condition known as patellar tendonitis?
Although it’s more common in athletes who engage in jumping sports, runners can also fall victim to it.
That’s why in today’s post, I’m sharing with you the complete guide to patellar tendonitis.
I’ll explain the process behind it, what’s causing it, and give you a few treatment and prevention guidelines to speed up recovery and protect your knees against any future problems.
Are you excited?
Then here we go.
What’s Patellar Tendonitis?
Although it sounds like a mouthful, patellar tendonitis is simply an inflammation, degeneration or rupture of the patellar tendon caused by unaccustomed or excessive tension forces.
To fully understand what is it all about let’s first define patellar tendon.
The patellar tendon, or the patellar ligament, is a crucial part of leg structure, connecting the kneecap to the top of the tibia (or shin bone). See image.
This tendon originates on the kneecap and extends down the front of the knee to insert on the top of the tibia.
When you contract your quad muscles, your patellar tendon is pulled, which in turn straightens your knee and extends your leg. This helps you run, kick, and jump.
But that’s not all.
Your patellar tendon also helps keep proper kneecap alignment as you bend your legs and straighten them during each step. It also helps transmit forces from the thigh to the lower leg.
For these reasons, the patellar ligament absorbs a lot of loading, and therefore, it’s prone to injury in runners—in fact, surveys show that patellar tendonitis accounts for roughly 5 percent of all running injuries.
Jumpers knee, as the name implies, is most common in athletes whose sports require a lot of jumping (volleyball and basketball), activities that involve quick changes in direction (football), or many stop-and-go movements (tennis, badminton).
For example, the rate of injury in volleyball players can reach up to 40 percent.
However, even trainees who don’t participate in such sports can get patellar tendinitis—runners are no exception.
Pounding the pavement places a great deal of stress on the patellar tendon, causing irritation and limiting training. And as I have already stated, about 5 percent of all running injuries can be blamed on jumpers knee.
The Causes Of Jumpers Knee
Patellar tendonitis is caused by repetitive load.
More specifically, tendinopathy arises when this tendon is continuously loaded while running with insufficient rest and recovery between workouts.
The main risk factors contributing to the onset of the condition include:
- Biomechanical problems, such as overpronation
- Excessive hill training.
- Greater body weight
- Having an increased angle of the knee
- Being knock-kneed or bow-legged
- Limb-length discrepancies
The Telling Signs Of Patellar Tendonits
Just like other injuries, patellar tendonitis comes with a host of red flags.
Runners suffering from jumpers’ knees usually describe pain in the front of the knee—on what’s known as the lower pole of the patella, during and after exercise.
On the onset, jumpers knee starts as an inflammation of the tendon, with the pain usually only felt after a hard run.
Symptoms may be tolerable, but training may become more and more uncomfortable as the injury worsens, affecting the normal activities of one’s day, such as when climbing stairs, or after sitting for long periods.
Once you have severe tendonitis, even bending and/or straightening the injured limb can be very painful.
Some of the main symptoms include:
- Swelling under the patella
- Knee stiffness in the morning
- Tenderness behind the lower part of the patella
- Pain when straightening or bending the leg.
- Pain gets worse with running or jumping
Patellar Tendinitis Vs. Runners Knee
When trying to figure out if you may have jumpers’ knee, it’s vital to know the symptoms of other common knee injuries.
For instance, if you’re experiencing pain at the top or on the sides of the kneecap, it’s unlikely patellar tendonitis, but rather another common knee injury known as patellofemoral pain syndrome. Jumpers’ knee doesn’t hurt along the top or side of the patellar and isn’t typically sensitive to the touch.
Also, having pain on the outside of the knee may indicate iliotibial band syndrome, which is a whole different story.
Regardless of the symptoms you’re having, if your knee pain refused to go away after a few days, it’s important that you take a step back from running and assess your current situation.
The best course of action is to visit your doctor so you can properly determine what you are dealing with and discuss the treatment methods for your own specific case.
It’s Not A Death Sentence
Patellar tendonitis is by no means the worst running injury you can sustain. Nonetheless, if the injury goes untreated or ignored, the tendon will become more damaged, putting you out of commission for weeks, even months.
This is why it’s key to take care of your jumpers’ knee from running immediately or else your patellar ligament will become weaker and more prone to tears in the future.
Treatment of Patellar Tendonitis
Jumpers’ knee is usually treated conservatively, i.e., without surgery. Going under the knife is only needed if the patellar tendon actually ruptures.
The following measures can help you relieve pain and stop the progression of patellar tendonitis while running.
If you suffer from a lot of pain, stop running and rest the affected limb from activities that aggravate the condition. Any further running or stress will only make the condition worse, thus prolong recovery.
Treating patellar tendonitis involves opting for the R.I.C.E method, which stands for resting, icing, compressing, and elevating the injured limb.
To ease inflammation, apply ice to the injured area for 15 minutes three to four times per day.
If you still feel pain following a few days despite resting and icing, the next step would be to use a band or brace on the knee. This may help reduce the stress on the tendon, stabilize the knee and reduce inflammation—all of which can speed up recovery.
When to Call A Doctor
In case the RICE method failed at soothing your pain, see your doctor.
They will assess your condition, if needed, prescribe anti-inflammatories and/or physical therapy to hasten recovery.
In severe cases of jumpers’ knee, the course of treatment usually involves a mix of physical therapy and possibly platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. Surgical intervention should only be considered as a last resort.
Prevention Of Jumpers Knee
Maybe you’re a runner who is not yet experiencing any symptoms of jumper’s knee but looking for proactive measures to prevent injury.
First of all, I applaud you for being proactive and taking the initiative to manage your health and well-being.
Here’s the good news. Patellar tendonitis can be avoided with a few prevention strategies.
When the muscles that surround or cross the knee joint are tight, extra stress is placed on the patellar tendon, contributing to tendonitis.
Build the habit of stretching the muscles surrounding your knee kneecap. These include your quads, hamstrings, calves and hip flexors.
Here are the main stretches:
Standing hamstring stretch
Side-lying leg lift
Like most knee problems, the stronger the muscles surrounding your knees, the less risk for sustaining a serious ailment—and if you do catch one, you’ll likely bounce back faster.
The two important muscle group that support and protect your knee—especially the patellar tendon— are the quadriceps and the hamstrings.
Some of the best exercises include:
Single leg glute bridges
Improve Your Form
The load through the tendon can also be minimized by improving your running technique—the way you move.
According to my research, the best form tweak for protecting your lower body against overuse injury is to avoid overstriding, which refers to landing the foot too far in front.
To shorten your stride, focus on two things:
Land directly underneath your body rather than the front of your hips. Check this article.
Improve your cadence. Here’s the full guide.
I can go on and on about the many ways you can improve your running technique, but ain’t nobody got time for that.
The following posts will get you started on the right foot (literally and figurately).
- Post 1
- Post 2
- Post 3
If you can afford it, get a running coach, or consult a professional on how to improve your form as it relates to preventing knee pain.
Get Proper Running Shoes
Think about changing your running shoes, too.
Running shoes with a drastic heel-to-toe-drop may put extra stress on the patellar tendon.
Proper trainers help keep your knees stable, offer ample cushioning, and support your lower leg throughout the running motion.
Replace your running shoes the moment they start to lose support and cushioning—typically after 400 miles. Here’s the full guide.
As far as I can tell, as long as you’re listening to your body and treating patellar tendonitis early on, you’ll be okay.
And in case you’re dealing with jumpers’ knee, taking the above treatment and prevention measures will surely help you relieve your pain and keep training injury free. It’s up to you to take action.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.
Keep Running Strong.