Medically termed as patellar tendonitis, Jumper’s knee is characterized by the pain in the knee which gradually develops with continued weight bearing activities such as running, jogging, jumping, sprinting and other landing movements. If strained too much, the patellar tendon undergoes various microscopic damages in the tissues of the tendon, which progress with prolonged movement.
Note that the term patellar tendonitis refers to the inflammation of the patellar tendon, whereas, patellar tendinopathy refers to its degeneration.
The patellar tendon is situated right below the patella (kneecap) and is about two finger-space breadths wide. The patellar tendon plays a role in transferring force to the thigh muscles allowing the contraction to cause the extension of the knee. The thigh or quadriceps muscles are typically moved in activities such as running, football or soccer.
How it happens
Jumping causes the greatest amount of stress on the patellar tendon; typically through landing. When a person jumps, there is a huge amount of force that causes the contraction of the thigh muscles, which straightens the knees. In conjunction with the calf muscles, the thigh muscles push the person to the air. Additionally, any physical activity causing repetitive strain on the patellar and quadriceps tendon, such as cycling, weight lifting and even running can cause jumper’s knee. When the person comes back to the ground, the thigh muscles stabilize the landing by flexing the knee slightly. Too much of similar physical activities progressively strain the patella tendon and cause tissue damages.
Signs and symptoms of Patellar Tendonitis
Jumper’s knee generally starts with pain in the portion of the patellar tendon, located between the kneecap and the region where the patellar tendon attaches to the tibia.
The pain may increase and significantly interfere with sports performances such as running and jumping and eventually worsens to such an extent that even daily activities such as getting up from a chair or climbing the stairs become a challenge.
Usually the tendon may feel stiff the next day. The affected region may feel tender and appear thickened as compared to unaffected areas of the knee.
Treatment for Jumper’s Knee
Patellar tendinopathy is usually not an inflammatory response; therefore, the use of NSAIDs is may not be a great idea. Why? It’s simply because anti-inflammatory drugs interfere with the healing process, thereby reducing the ability to recover damaged tissues. In case of pain and irritation, home treatment is always an ideal starter approach.
You can start with home treatment. Apply ice packs on the affected areas for about 20 minutes for every 2 hours to allow symptoms to subside. Avoid applying direct ice to the skin as it may cause severe tissue damages and ice burn. If an ice pack is not available, wrap ice in a towel and gently massage your knee with it.
Early diagnosis and treatment is necessary for a better outcome. For minor symptoms, a patellar tendon strap can be used to alleviate symptoms by decreasing the cross sectional area of the patellar tendon. The pressure applied on the tendon will effectively dull the amount of pressure being transferred to it.
Another important key to full recovery is rest. There is no such thing as “no pain, no gain”. If you feel any sort of severe discomfort through training, you body is warning you and telling you to stop, so listen up! It is important that you avoid sporting activities for three months or more, as advised by your doctor. It takes three months for the collagen tissue to mature and lay down. The collagen tissues play a role in repairing tendon tissue damage and are thus, vital for a healthy recovery. The process is usually aided with treatments involving raising the temperature of the affected tendon to increase metabolic activity and enhance the healing process.
To optimize recovery, experts suggest following an “eccentric muscle workout” constructed by a qualified health professional or physiotherapist. While the knee joint and muscles are mobilized, these anatomical structures become stagnant and stiff. Therefore, to overcome this problem, they need to perform a range of exercises to strengthen the muscles and increase their flexibility.
In severe cases, if 6 months of rehabilitation treatment under the supervision of a physiotherapist fails to produce positive results, surgery may be needed. Note that surgery is typically a last resort for jumper’s knee and even with the best surgeons around, it cannot be considered as a fail-safe approach.
After surgery, it is important to keep the affected knee mobilized. Experts suggest using the McDavid Thermal Jumpers Knee Strap 414 to support your knee so you can get back on the road without worrying about recurring symptoms after your recovery. For more severe injuries, it is better if you use the Mueller Max Knee Strap to reduce symptoms such as pain and swelling.