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Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper's Knee)

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What Is Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper's Knee)?

Patellar tendonitis, also called “jumper's knee,” is damage to the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone.

The patellar tendon along with the quadriceps muscle and tendon allow you to straighten your knee.

Patellar tendonitis causes

Patellar tendonitis is an overuse injury due to repeated stress on the tendon. This causes tiny tears in the tendon.

With rest, your body can repair the tendon tears in the knee.

Without resting the stress to your knee, your body can't repair the tendon tears fast enough. This causes inflammation and pain.

In rare cases, an acute injury to the tendon that hasn't had time to heal can cause patellar tendonitis or jumper's knee.

Patellar tendonitis risk factors

Athletes who play jumping sports — such as basketball or volleyball — have a high risk of getting patellar tendonitis.

Running and soccer can also lead to knee tendon tears.

How to prevent patellar tendonitis

Here are a few steps you can take to prevent patellar tendonitis:

  • Conditioning properly.
  • Adding new or higher impact activity slowly.
  • Warming up and stretching before exercise.
  • Wearing the right shoes for your sport. 

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Patellar Tendonitis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Patellar tendonitis symptoms

The first sign of patellar tendonitis is pain in your kneecap where the tendon connects to the shinbone.

You may also feel pain when jumping or kneeling.

Patellar tendonitis pain often starts off mild, but symptoms can become more severe over time.

Patellar tendonitis diagnosis

To diagnose patellar tendonitis or jumper's knee, your doctor at UPMC Sports Medicine will take your medical history and do a physical exam. He or she will look for knee pain by pressing on the tendon.

You might also need x-rays or other imaging tests to rule out:

  • Bone problems
  • Arthritis
  • Infection
  • Other knee injuries 

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Patellar Tendonitis Treatment

The first goal of patellar tendonitis treatment is to give your body the chance to heal the damaged tendon in your knee.

At-home patellar tendonitis treatment

You can often treat minor knee tendon strains or tears at home with:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs for pain

To help treat jumper's knee, the UPMC Sports Medicine team also urges stretches that work the muscles in the:

  • Front of the thighs (quadriceps)
  • Back of the thighs (hamstrings)
  • Calves

If your knee pain symptoms don't improve — or if you have swelling around the knee joint — call your doctor right away. You might need surgery to repair the tear in your patellar tendon.

Patellar tendonitis rehab

To get back to your sport more quickly and help prevent future knee damage, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy and exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knee.

A few exercises for patellar tendonitis rehab include:

  • Knee extensions — using a leg extension resistance-training machine.
  • Knee flexion — using a leg flexion resistance-training machine.
  • Half-knee bends (half squats).

With each exercise, start at a level that causes no pain. Slowly add resistance each session. 

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