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Sports Physical Therapy
Explore Patellar Tendonitis
What is Patellar Tendonitis?
Commonly considered a sports injury, patellar tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon that attaches the kneecap to the shin. The tendon works with muscles to allow the extension of the knee for running, jumping and kicking. When the patellar tendon becomes inflamed, it leads to patellar tendon pain, which can range from minor to severe. This condition is commonly seen in people who participate in basketball, volleyball, distance running, long jumping, mountain climbing, figure skating or high impact aerobics, hence the term jumper's knee.
What Causes Patellar Tendonitis?
Inflammation of the patellar tendon can happen due to overuse of the knee or repeated hard impacts. Repetitive activity, such as jumping, running or other high-impact movements, can cause micro-failure of the tendon tissue that leads to patellar tendonitis. Small tears in the tendon can weaken the knee and cause swelling, inflammation and pain.
Patellar Tendonitis Symptoms:
Common symptoms for those experiencing patellar tendonitis may include:
- Pain below the kneecap during activity
- Pain below the kneecap during rest
- Swelling below the kneecap
- Weakness in the knee
What Does Patellar Tendonitis Feel Like?
In many cases of patellar tendonitis you will notice a sudden onset of aching and pain in the area just below the kneecap after sports or recreational activities. You may notice pain when landing from a jump or when going up and down stairs. There is sometimes pain at rest, particularly after sitting with the knees bent. Swelling in the area just below the kneecap is common, as well as a feeling of weakness at the knee.
In the early (acute) stage of patellar tendonitis, the pain and inflammation subside with rest. While there may be pain at the beginning of activity, it often subsides after a period of warmup and then re-appears after the completion of the activity.
Can Patellar Tendonitis Symptoms Worsen?
If you continue with your activity in the presence of pain, you can usually continue to exercise or perform at a normal level. However, if you continue to exercise and don’t rest, the pain will become more persistent and will be present before, during and after activity. At this stage, you can do permanent damage to the tendon if you continue your activity, and it will take longer to heal.Request an appointment
How is Patellar Tendonitis Diagnosed?
To diagnose patellar tendonitis, a specialist may start with a physical exam, discussion of recent injuries as part of a medical history and evaluation of symptoms. From there, additional tests may include:
- X-ray to create images of internal tissues, bones and organs
- Ultrasound to produce pictures of tissues and organs using sound waves
- MRI for detailed images of internal organs and tissues using magnets and radio waves
How to Treat Patellar Tendonitis
Patellar tendonitis treatment has two objectives: to reduce the inflammation and to allow the tendon to heal.
First Steps in Patellar Tendonitis Treatment
- Rest. Avoid jumping or climbing stairs and keep your knee straight, even when sitting, to allow the tendon to heal
- Ice. Icing your knee for 20 minutes, two to three times daily after activities, by placing ice over a towel on your knee can help reduce swelling, inflammation and pain
- Medicine. To help ease pain and reduce inflammation, aspirin, Aleve or Advil may help
- Support. A knee brace may support the knee and help reduce pain
Next Steps in Patellar Tendonitis Treatment
- Physical therapy. Exercises and stretches are designed to improve the strength and flexibility of the patellar tendon. Learn more about what our Sports Physical Therapy program has to offer.
- Cortisone. A cortisone injection applied by a doctor may help ease pain, but can also weaken the tendon
- Surgery. While uncommon, a tear of the tendon may require surgery to repair
Learn more about how Mass General Brigham specialists diagnose and treat a full spectrum of knee injuries.
How to Prevent Patellar TendonitisAvoid sports and activities that may aggravate your knee problems. Total rest may be required to avoid pain. When your knee has healed, you should be able to enjoy many activities, but you'll need to use your judgment.
Common Steps for Preventing Patellar Tendonitis
- Warmup before your physical activity
- Stretch prior to sports
- If you experience pain, don't push through it
- Strengthen thigh muscles to help support the patellar tendon
- Use proper technique to limit excess strain
Sports that aggravate patellar tendonitis:
- Distance running
- Weightlifting, including squats, lunges, lex extensions and stair-steppers
Sports that may not cause symptoms:
- Cross-country skiing
- Swimming, especially with a flutter kick
- Walking while avoiding hills
- Cycling with the seat high and while avoiding hills
What is another name for patellar tendonitis?
Patellar tendonitis is commonly known as jumper's knee. The name highlights the stress placed on the knee when jumping and the type of activities that frequently contribute to the onset of patellar tendonitis.
How long does patellar tendonitis last?
Mild patellar tendonitis can often clear in six weeks if treated properly and given ample rest. More serious cases, such as those requiring physical therapy, may take months for a full recovery, even though relief can often be felt in a few weeks.
Does patellar tendonitis go away?
With the appropriate treatments, patellar tendonitis will likely go away, but your doctor or physical therapist may suggest strengthening and flexibility exercises to help keep patellar tendonitis from returning. Learn more about the types of exercises that help treat patellar tendonitis.
Is swimming good for patellar tendonitis?
While resting your knee, you'll want to keep your fitness level up and swimming, especially strokes using a flutter kick, offer a good opportunity to exercise without placing strain on your patellar tendon. If you can swim without pain, it is considered a quality way to remain active while treating patellar tendonitis.
Can I run with patellar tendonitis?
It may be possible to keep running with patellar tendonitis, but there are a few changes you'll likely need to make. Keep in mind that any activity that causes pain is not helping the tendon heal.
- Warm-up properly to help prevent further injury, paying special attention to your quad muscles
- Avoid hills as both uphill and downhill running add stress to the knee
- You may need to lighten your intensity to avoid pain
- To reduce stress on your knee, run with an upright posture to decrease the chance your foot lands too far in front of you
- Increase your heel lift at toe-off to keep your body weight over your knee when you land
- Increasing your steps-per-minute can help you from overextending your stride
- If you have pain following your run, rest and ice
When should I see a doctor for my knee pain?
If self-care remedies such as icing and rest do not relieve your knee pain, and symptoms continue or worsen over time, request an appointment with one of our Sports Medicine Team members or call today.
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