Patellar tendonitis / Jumper's knee

If you experience knee pain when running or jumping, then you may be suffering from jumper’s knee (also known as patellar tendinitis). As the name suggests, it’s most common if your sport or daily activities involve a lot of jumping or similar impact on your knee. Read more on causes, symptoms and exercises to help you treat your injury.

Pierre Schydlowsky Specialist MD in rheumatology

What Is Jumper’s Knee?

Most common in athletes who perform activities involving a lot of jumps or kicks, jumper’s knee is an overload injury that can affect non-athletes, too. At the root is a large tendon running across your kneecap from the thigh muscle (the quadriceps) and connecting the kneecap to your shinbone.

It is this tendon (the kneecap tendon, or ligamentum patellae) that becomes irritated and damaged when you suffer from jumper’s knee. If the injury progresses over several weeks, it may become tendinopathy.

Causes of Jumper's Knee

The function of the thigh muscle is to extend the knee - that means straightening it. The tendon is the extension of the muscle and where it attaches into your shinbone in this case.

Your thigh muscle and its tendon across the patella are therefore used extensively for both setting off and landing when jumping and running. The pain felt if you’re suffering from jumper’s knee can be caused by overloading the knee through repetitive movements straining the tendon. In fact, any increase in activity level exceeding the tendon tissue’s tolerance can lead to it being overloaded.

With age, the kneecap becomes more rigid. This can increase your risk of injury. When you overload your kneecap tendon, it becomes inflamed - a sterile inflammation producing swelling and soreness in the area.

Symptoms of Jumper's knee

Pain in the bottom part of the kneecap is a common symptom if you have jumper’s knee. It’s generally brought on by the start and end of physical activity. The pain usually subsides as your knee warms up. Some people will experience pain from performing everyday activities like walking up and down stairs.

It is important to take these symptoms seriously. If they are ignored and the kneecap tendon continues to be overloaded, the injury will become worse.

If your pain is located on the inside of the knee instead of in the front bottom part of your kneecap, it's possible you might be suffering from pes anserine bursitis rather than jumper's knee.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Jumper's Knee

Relief

As jumper’s knee is caused by overloading the knee, avoiding any activity triggering pain is where you should start. Typically, this will include jumping, kicking and running activities. By relieving your knee, you let your body get to work on healing the muscle and tendon damage.

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is important - in addition to pain relief. If you suffer from jumper’s knee and would like to return to the activities that triggered your injury (e.g. sports), there’s no way around rehabilitation exercises.

Rehabilitating jumper’s knee means placing special emphasis on slow and heavy strength-building exercises, as well as exercises stretching the thigh muscles.

It’s important you don’t increase the load on your kneecap tendon too quickly. Additional mobility and flexibility exercises will help you create optimal conditions for the kneecap to work in and help prevent future injuries.

In the examples below, you can see some of the most common exercises used to treat jumper’s knee.

Exercises for Patellar tendonitis / Jumper's knee

  1. Arm spread
    None

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    • Stand up and move all your weight over on one leg while holding the second leg straight backward.
    • Lean slightly forward, about 20-30 degrees, while keeping the backward leg in line with your body.
    • Rotate your upper body to make your arms move up on one side and down in the other like airplane wings during turning.
    • This is repeated 15 times to each side.
  2. Squat I
    None

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    • Stand up in front of a chair without touching it.
    • Stand on both legs with your feet slightly apart.
    • Your toes should point straight ahead.
    • Bend your knees slowly to a point where you almost touch the chair.
    • Then slowly go back up.
    • Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
  3. Inner hip stretch
    30 sec. x 3 sets

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    • Take a broad stance with your toes pointing straight ahead.
    • Keep one leg stretched while you bend the other leg and slide your body over the outstretched leg.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and perform 3 repetitions with each leg.

Treat your pain with Injurymap

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About the author

Pierre Schydlowsky is a specialist MD and Ph.D. of rheumatology with a diploma in sports medicine. He has published multiple research papers on shoulder and ski injuries and is teaching various advanced courses in sports medicine at Danish Universities.