What is Tendonitis of the Knee?

  • Patellar tendinitis is an injury that affects the tendon connecting your kneecap (patella) to your shinbone.
  • It helps your muscles extend your knee so that you can kick a ball, run uphill and jump up in the air.
  • Patellar tendinitis is most common in athletes whose sports involve frequent jumping — such as basketball and volleyball. For this reason, patellar tendinitis is commonly known as jumper’s knee.

Patellar tendinitis is an injury that affects the tendon connecting your kneecap (patella) to your shinbone. The patellar tendon plays a pivotal role in the way you use your leg muscles. It helps your muscles extend your knee so that you can kick a ball, run uphill and jump up in the air.

Patellar tendinitis is most common in athletes whose sports involve frequent jumping — such as basketball and volleyball. For this reason, patellar tendinitis is commonly known as jumper’s knee. However, even people who don’t participate in jumping sports can experience patellar tendinitis.

Our Treatment Approach

For most people, treatment of patellar tendinitis begins with physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the knee. Doctors typically begin with less invasive treatments before considering other options, such as surgery.

Medications

Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen (Aleve, others) may provide short-term relief from pain associated with patellar tendinitis.

Therapy

A variety of physical therapy techniques can help reduce the symptoms associated with patellar tendinitis, including:

  • Stretching exercises. Regular, steady stretching exercises can reduce muscle spasm and help lengthen the muscle-tendon unit. Don’t bounce during your stretch.
  • Strengthening exercises. Weak thigh muscles contribute to the strain on your patellar tendon. Eccentric exercises, which involve lowering your leg very slowly after you extend your knee, are particularly helpful.
  • Patellar tendon strap. A strap that applies pressure to your patellar tendon can help to distribute force away from the tendon itself and direct it through the strap instead. This may help relieve pain.
  • Iontophoresis. This therapy involves spreading a corticosteroid medicine on your skin and then using a device that delivers a low electrical charge to push the medication through your skin.

Surgical and other procedures

If conservative treatments haven’t helped, your doctor may suggest other therapies such as:

  • Corticosteroid injection. An ultrasound-guided corticosteroid injection into the sheath around the patellar tendon may help relieve pain. But these types of drugs can also weaken tendons and make them more likely to rupture.
  • Platelet-rich plasma injection. An injection of platelet-rich plasma has been tried in some people with chronic patellar tendon problems. Studies are ongoing. It is hoped the injections might promote new tissue formation and help heal tendon damage.
  • Surgery. If conservative approaches aren’t helping after many months of treatment, in rare cases your doctor might suggest surgical intervention for the patellar tendon. Some of these procedures can be accomplished through small incisions around your knee.

Causes

Patellar tendinitis is a common overuse injury. It occurs when you place repeated stress on your patellar tendon. The stress results in tiny tears in the tendon, which your body attempts to repair. But as the tears in the tendon become more numerous, they cause pain from inflammation and a weakening of the tendon structure. When this tendon damage persists over more than a few weeks, it is called tendinopathy. A combination of factors may contribute to the development of patellar tendinitis, including:

  • Intensity and frequency of physical activity. Repeated jumping is most commonly associated with patellar tendinitis. Sudden increases in the intensity of physical activity or increases in frequency of impact activity also put added stress on the tendon.
  • Tight leg muscles. Reduced flexibility in your thigh muscles (quadriceps) and your hamstrings, which run up the back of your thighs, could increase the strain on your patellar tendon.
  • Muscular imbalance. If some muscles in your legs are much stronger than others, the stronger muscles could pull harder on your patellar tendon. This uneven pull could cause tendinitis

Symptoms

Pain is the first symptom of patellar tendinitis. The pain usually is located in the section of your patellar tendon between your kneecap (patella) and the area where the tendon attaches to your shinbone (tibia).

The pain in your knee may:

  • Initially be present only as you begin physical activity or just after an intense workout
  • Progress to the point that it interferes with your sports performance
  • Eventually interfere with daily tasks such as climbing stairs or getting up from a chair

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