Jumper’s knee is one of the most common injuries athletes may experience. You may have heard it called patellar tendonitis or patellar tendinopathy, but regardless of what term is used, it can impact up to 20% of all jumping athletes. Samuel Voight, a Marshfield Clinic Health System licensed athletic trainer, offers his expertise to break down what the injury is and how you can take steps to prevent it.
What is jumper’s knee and what are its symptoms?
Jumper’s knee is an inflammation in the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to the shinbone.
The injury leads to gradually increasing pain or tenderness around the tendon, especially with activities like jumping, running or going up and down stairs.
What causes it and how is it treated?
The most common cause of the injury is from an overload of the jumping motion. It’s a regular occurrence in sports such as basketball, volleyball and soccer. But it also can happen during training exercises like plyometrics, jump rope and deep squatting.
“Even prolonged running or hill running without jumping can lead to irritation of the infrapatellar tendon,” Voight said. “A one-time injury like a tendon strain or contusion may also progress to excessive inflammation.”
He also mentioned that jumper’s knee can develop in people of all ages. “It takes time for the body to adapt to increases in activity level,” Voight said. “This is especially true for dense tissues like tendon and bone.”
Treatment of patellar tendinitis varies depending on the severity and duration of the symptoms, and Voight often recommends these treatment methods for patients:
- Ice-cup massage (3-5 times a day for 5 minutes each time) or ice bag placed on the injury (ice cubes in a plastic bag, 3-5 times a day for 20 minutes each time).
- Anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen and Naprosyn may be indicated by your physician.
- If symptoms persist or worsen, you may be referred to a physical therapist.
Voight stressed the importance of contacting your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms. “If left untreated for too long, patellar tendinitis can progress to a point where the structure of the tendon actually breaks down and weakens,” he said. “This is called tendinosis. In significant cases, this can lead to a tendon rupture.”
How can you avoid getting it?
Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to avoid making your jumper’s knee worse or prevent getting it in the first place.
If you have the injury, you should put strenuous movements that involve overloading the tissues on hold. This includes activities such as squatting, jumping, stair workouts and kneeling. If you are experiencing any pain, stop the activity right away.
By progressing gradually when attempting a new activity, you will help decrease your chances of getting the injury. Voight highlighted relatively young, actively-growing and senior athletes as individuals who may be particularly susceptible and recommended participating in pre-season conditioning programs to help learn new activities.
“We are also learning more and more about nutrition, hydration and sleep patterns and the role they play in the body’s ability to fight inflammation,” he said. “Needless to say, the more you prioritize those areas and prepare your body prior to the activity, the better it will be able to respond when something goes wrong.”
If you want to learn more about jumper’s knee or are concerned you may have the injury, see your physician, athletic trainer, nutritionist or strength and conditioning coach.