If you’re an athlete who does an activity with a lot of jumping involved, or if you have a child or teen who plays such a sport, you may one day find yourself with jumper’s knee. In the medical world, it’s known as patellar tendonitis or patellar tendinopathy.
Tendons are tissues in the body that connect muscle to bone. The patellar tendon is an area of tissue that links the kneecap to the shinbone. The patellar tendon helps you during activities like jumping, running and straightening your leg.
Jumper’s knee is used to describe an overuse injury in the patellar tendon. Some sports that have a greater association with jumper’s knee:
However, this type of injury can happen with other activities as well, such as walking for exercise after you’ve been sedentary for a long time or if you’re training for a marathon, says Theresa Marko, a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy and owner of Marko Physical Therapy in New York City.
Although jumper’s knee can happen at any age, it’s more common in young athletes because they tend to be more heavily involved in the physical activities that cause jumper’s knee, says Leada Malek, a board-certified sports physical therapist in San Francisco. Younger teens who are still growing and need to improve their tolerance to jumping and related activities are more vulnerable to patellar tendinopathy, she explains.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Jumper’s Knee
Symptoms of jumper’s knee include pain that’s:
— At the front of the knee, usually just below the kneecap.
— Gets worse with movements that put increased stress on the patellar tendon. This usually happens with activities using the quadriceps muscle.
— Stronger when sitting a lot, squatting or using stairs.
— Worse the day after prolonged activity — say, a game or tournament.
Patellar tendinopathy isn’t an in-the-moment, acute injury. It comes from overuse over time and can even sneak up on you.
Patellar tendinopathy is usually diagnosed by taking a history and conducting a physical exam. The location of the pain provides clues to indicate that it’s patellar tendinopathy, says Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
Doctors may also take an X-ray, although the X-ray often looks normal if someone has jumper’s knee, Mandelbaum says. Some doctors also may do an ultrasound or MRI to help with the diagnosis.
The person examining your knee will want to rule out a couple of similar conditions that can occur around the knee, including:
— Quadriceps tendinopathy, which is an injury in the quadriceps tendon.
— Osgood-Schlatter syndrome, which is an overuse injury where the patellar tendon attaches to the shinbone in the leg. The pain from jumper’s knee appears a little higher than the pain from Osgood-Schlatter syndrome.
— Sinding-Larsen-Johansson syndrome, used to describe pain at the bottom of the knee cap that’s caused by irritation of the growth plate that is located there. Growth plates are areas of tissue on the ends of longer bones in children and teens.
If you’ve had knee pain for a couple of weeks, you should see a doctor to help pinpoint the cause and start treatment if needed, Marko says. “This is one condition where you can make it worse if you’re not doing the correct regimen for your knee,” she says. Inflammation of a tendon can get easily aggravated and potentially limit your ability to do the activities you want to do.
Treatment of Jumper’s Knee
Treatments for jumper’s knee include:
As with other similar injuries, icing the affected area a few times a day can be helpful for patellar tendonopathy.
Wearing a Knee Brace
There also are knee braces designed for the patella region. If that type of knee brace doesn’t stay on easily, you can try other knee braces to see if they’ll provide more support.
Resting the Knee
If you have jumper’s knee, taking some rest from the activity that causes it can be helpful to reduce pain. However, you don’t want to overdo the rest because if you return right back to your sport or activity, the problem will likely occur again, Malek says. That’s because you still need to learn how to strengthen that tendon.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help manage the pain you may feel from jumper’s knee. Ask your doctor how long it’s safe for you to use them.
Physical therapy is often part of the treatment for jumper’s knee. A physical therapist can guide you through stretching and strengthening exercises that help your body to better tolerate the activities that lead to jumper’s knee without putting too much pressure on the patellar tendon. Your physical therapist will show you these exercises, and you can continue to practice them at home.
Examples of exercises that a physical therapist may use for knee pain include:
— Stretches that focus on the quadriceps, calves and hamstrings.
— Wall sits, which involve sitting against the wall without a chair. This helps strengthen the quadriceps.
— Exercises that strengthen your core muscles.
— Balancing exercises such as standing on one leg.
A physical therapist can also look at the way you walk or run to identify if something in your alignment may contribute to patellar tendinopathy. The exact exercises or stretches recommended are tailored for each person.
Ultrasound and Dry Needling Therapy
Physical therapists or doctors may use other treatments to help with jumper’s knee, including therapeutic ultrasound and dry needling. Therapeutic ultrasound, often used by physical therapists, uses ultrasonic energy to treat pain and encourage healing. Dry needling involves inserting needles into the affected tendon to treat pain and irritation.
Recovery from jumper’s knee will depend on how long you’ve had it and how severe it is, Mandelbaum says. If it’s mild, you may respond well to rest and standard treatment. If it’s been around a long time, it may take a few weeks or months to heal. The majority of people with jumper’s knee recover well with standard treatment like icing, physical therapy and some rest.
If standard treatment doesn’t help, another option is platelet-rich plasma. Platelets are a concentration of helpful cells from your own blood that are injected into the tendon that is not adapting well. Among those who don’t respond to standard treatment, most will respond to platelet-rich plasma injections, Mandelbaum says.
Surgical debridement is another option if patellar tendonopathy continues to persist. With this approach, the surgeon will remove the damaged tissue from the tendon. The majority of patients with patellar tendonopathy don’t require surgery.
Prevention of Jumper’s Knee
There are a few things you can do to help prevent jumper’s knee from occurring or recurring:
— Get back to more intense athletic practices gradually. Mandelbaum often sees around the start of a school year how young athletes will go from inconsistent physical activity during the summer to intense practices two or more times a week. This can stress the tendon, making it more vulnerable to an overuse injury. Aim for some consistency in your physical activity to avoid overstressing your tendon and the rest of your body.
— Have rest days when you’re not practicing sports.
— Continue to do exercises that strengthen the hips, knees and ankles, Marko advises. This can remove some of the pressure felt in the patellar tendon.
— Add stability exercises to your routine, such as balancing on one leg.
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What Is Jumper’s Knee? Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention originally appeared on usnews.com