Topics of the Month: Patellar Tendonitis

Patellar tendonitis, also known as “jumper’s knee.” It is is an injury to the tendon that connects your kneecap (your patella) to your shinbone. As the nickname suggests, patellar tendonitis tends to plague athletes in sports where frequent jumping is involved, such as basketball and volleyball. Experts estimate that as many as half of all elite volleyball players suffer from jumper’s knee.

However, patellar tendonitis is not an injury exclusively suffered by basketball and volleyball players. On the contrary, it also plagues many other athletes, such as tennis players. In tennis, a combination of the hard playing surface, lots of running, and quick changes in direction can lead to the same “jumper’s knee” injury that affects athletes in more jump-centric sports.

The Symptoms of Patellar Tendonitis
Pain is the only real “symptom” of a patellar tendonitis injury. The severity of that pain may vary depending on the extent of the damage. Over time, as the tendon connecting your knee suffers repetitive stress, strain, and overuse. Tiny tears can then start to form in the tendon. These tears cause inflammation and weaken the tendon, causing pain and sometimes negatively affects athletic performance.

In the early stages of a patellar tendonitis injury, you will notice mild pain in your knee between the kneecap and the shinbone. This pain may go away as your exercise, to the point where it doesn’t really bother you during a workout. Instead, you will mostly notice the pain as you warm up or immediately after you have concluded physical activity.

As patellar tendonitis worsens, the tears in the tendon grow more significant or more widespread. The result is more consistent and debilitating pain. The pain won’t go away during physical activity anymore and will impact your ability to push your body and reach peak performance. If the injury is allowed to progress far enough, patellar tendonitis will even make it difficult to climb stairs, crouch down into a kneeling position, or handle other simple day-to-day motions.

What to Do about Patellar Tendonitis
Jumper’s knee injuries are tricky because they might not seem that bad at first. It’s not uncommon to have minor aches and pains during a warm-up or after a period of rigorous activity. Often, athletes mistake patellar tendonitis for innocuous, random pains.

If you notice you are suffering knee pain after workouts, try icing the knee or resting it. Sometimes, a few days away from a rigorous activity is enough to resolve a minor injury. If you notice that your knee pain is recurrent, you should consult a doctor. If you can’t schedule an appointment immediately, try to avoid stressful physical activity. You should also seek medical attention if you notice swelling or redness around the affected knee.

Your doctor will ask you about your injury/symptoms, examine your knee, test your range of motion, and determine where you are feeling pain. The diagnosis process may also involve x-rays or other similar tests. From there, the doctor will prescribe a treatment plan based on the severity of the injury. This treatment regimen could include medication to alleviate the pain and inflammation, physical therapy to foster healing, or perhaps even reparative surgery.

For professional athletes, patellar tendonitis can be a career-ender if not addressed, treated, and healed in a timely and proper fashion. The stakes aren’t as high for non-professional athletes, but suffice to say that jumper’s knee can have long-term implications. If you think you might have this injury, don’t play or run through the pain. Instead, protect your long-term physical health by getting the medical attention you need.

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