The tendon that connects the knee cap, or patella, with your shin bone is known as the patellar tendon. Without it, you couldn’t extend your lower leg to do things such as jump, kick a ball, pedal a bicycle, or run. But when you do these activities repeatedly, or if you have problems with alignment in your legs, feet or hips, this tendon can become overly stressed, causing it to become inflamed. This condition, which is called patellar tendonitis or jumper’s knee, is most often seen in bicyclists, soccer and basketball players, and runners.
Common symptoms of patellar tendonitis include swelling, pain and tenderness right below the kneecap; pain may worsen when you walk or run, especially down a hill or stairs. If you think you may have this condition, your doctor can make a diagnosis by having you walk, run or squat to see if this causes pain and to examine your alignment. He or she may order X-rays, ultrasounds and other tests to rule out other causes of the pain, such as bone problems or tears in the cartilage below or behind your kneecap, or to get a detailed view of the patellar tendon.
If it’s established that you have patellar tendonitis, there are a number of measures you can take to get your knee on the road to recovery. You’ll need to rest the knee by avoiding the activities that caused the inflammation in the first place, and by staying away from exercise that causes knee pain. Your sports medicine specialist may give you the go-ahead to keep in shape with low-impact activities such as running in a pool, and you might also enlist the help of a band that wraps just below the kneecap, which helps siphon strain away from your patellar tendon.
You may also need to perform stretches to ease the condition, or learn exercises to strengthen the patellar tendon, and muscles around the patella; increasing the strength of your quadriceps muscles can also help. Finally, it may be necessary to learn better techniques for jumping or kicking to reduce the strain you put on your patellar tendon; a sports medicine specialist can help you do this.
The same methods that can help your knee heal also can help you prevent the return of patellar tendonitis: Keeping your muscles strong and well-stretched, and making sure you have good technique when it comes to motions you make repeatedly, such as jumping and landing. Finally, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t try to play through pain; addressing knee pain when you first notice it maximizes the chances that you will fully recover from an injury.