Patellar tendonitis is a condition that affects the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone. Though this condition can affect anyone, it most often affects athletes who play volleyball and basketball, hence why it is also sometimes called Jumper’s Knee.
Patellar Tendonitis Anatomy
The kneecap, also known as the patella, is held to the other bones with tendons. When repeated stress is placed on the knee, such as with repetitive jumping, this can cause tiny tears in the tendon which can inflame and weaken the knee over time.
Patellar Tendonitis Causes
The most common cause of patellar tendonitis is overuse in sports or exercise.
Risk factors that contribute to the development of patellar tendonitis are:
- Uneven leg muscle strength
- Tight leg muscles
- Misaligned feet, ankles, and legs
- Shoes without enough padding
- Hard playing surfaces
Since running, jumping, and squatting place more force on the patellar tendon, athletes are more likely to develop this condition. Running, for instance, can place force of up to 5 times your body weight on your knees. Long periods of intense sports training are associated with jumper’s knee.
Patellar Tendonitis Symptoms
Pain in the knee is the main symptom of patellar tendonitis. You may also experience:
- Tenderness at the base of the kneecap
- Swelling and burning in the kneecap
- Pain when kneeling or squatting
As the patellar tendon becomes more damaged and grows weaker, the pain will get worse. Even sitting in a car for a long period of time can become painful.
Patellar Tendonitis Diagnosis
A physical examination will be conducted after your doctor questions you about your signs and symptoms. They will search for pain and tenderness in your knee and test the range of motion and strength of the joint.
Imaging tests can also help rule out other sources of pain, such as a fracture in the knee. An X-ray, for instance, can determine if the kneecap has been displaced, or if the knee is fractured. An MRI will reveal any damage to the tendon or other soft tissues. An ultrasound will also show any soft tissue damage, and is not as time-consuming as an MRI.
Patellar Tendonitis Treatment
Conservative, nonsurgical methods are preferred to treat this condition, and are usually very successful. These may include:
- Medication. Over the counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen may be recommended by your doctor for short term relief from pain and inflammation.
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can develop an exercise program tailored to your individual needs. This may include stretches, isometric exercises where the joint and muscle remain fixed during contractions, or flexibility exercises for the thigh and calf.
- Nonsurgical procedures. This can include anything from platelet-rich plasma injections to several different ultrasound procedures that will break up blood vessels on the tendon. Ultrasound technology can also be used to poke small holes in the tendon, which can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
If other treatments aren’t successful in relieving your pain, surgery may be the only option. Traditionally, the surgical treatment for this injury involved opening up the knee and scraping the knee cap and tendon. Recently, arthroscopic surgery, which is less invasive, has become more popular, as it has a shorter recovery time.
Patellar Tendonitis Recovery
The time it takes to recover from patellar tendonitis depends on the severity of your particular condition.
In some cases, this condition is unfortunately chronic, while in others a few rounds of physical therapy allows them to return to their sport.
Generally, recovery from mild patellar tendonitis can be about 3 weeks. More severe cases may require 6 to 8 months.
Recovery from surgery can last anywhere from three months to a year, depending entirely on the severity of the injury, and the dedication of the patient to their physical therapy regimen. If you have concerns about the length of your recovery, it is important to speak to a doctor.