Patellar Tendinitis

What is Patellar Tendinitis?

Patellar Tendinitis (jumper’s knee) is characterized by the degeneration and swelling of the patella tendon. The tendon connects the tibia to the kneecap and works in conjunction with the thigh muscle. It most often strikes gymnasts, basketball players, volleyball players and those who must jump.

However, it can affect anyone, even those who do not regularly participate in sporting activities. When left untreated for an extended period of time, it can become more difficult to correct and the condition may become chronic.

What are the Symptoms of Patellar Tendinitis?

The chief symptom of patellar tendinitis is pain at the base of the kneecap. In the earliest stages of the condition it may only hurt while physically active or shortly thereafter. When patellar tendinitis progresses, the pain can be bad enough to hinder physical activities. When the condition becomes severe the pain interferes with daily life. Climbing stairs or simply standing up from a seated position can become excruciating. Other symptoms of patellar tendinitis may include:

  • Swelling near or in the patellar tendon
  • Tenderness when the base of the kneecap is pressed
  • Redness (an indication of tendon thickening)
  • Stiffness after physical activity
  • Weakness in the calf muscles and in a muscle on the inner thigh

Patellar Tendinitis Causes

Patellar tendinitis is caused by repetitive strain on the knee joint, which overloads the tendon. This overload damages the tendon, causing microscopic tears and weakening of the tissue. Over time, this damage accumulates, causing pain and reducing the ability of the tendon to handle loads.

Patellar tendinitis is common in athletes that play jumping sports like volleyball and basketball, where the landing from the jump places a strain on the knee joint. But it is also seen in other sports, and not all athletes suffer from it.

Researchers have attempted to identify risk factors in the development of patellar tendinitis. Although no firm evidence has been discovered, there is reason to believe that body weight, body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio, differences in leg length, foot arch height, flexibility in the quadriceps and hamstrings, strength in the quadriceps, and performance on the vertical jump may be risk factors.

How is Patellar Tendinitis Treated?

The treatment of patellar tendinitis generally begins with physical therapy. It includes stretching and strengthening exercises. Treatment may also include:

  • Rest from potentially aggravating physical activities
  • A patellar tendon strap
  • Heat retainer sleeve
  • Pain medication
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Icing the area 3 times a day for up to 15 minutes an hour
  • Topical corticosteroids with a low-dose electrical charge (iontophoresis therapy)
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Plasma injections
  • Tendon repair surgery

Patellar Tendinitis Prevention

The primary way to avoid patellar tendinitis is to avoid repetitive strain on the knees. However, if you play high-impact sports, this may be unavoidable. In this case, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing patellar tendinitis.

Firstly, this is a condition that develops over time, so if you start to notice issues or pain with your knees, you should stop training until the pain subsides. This will help prevent damage from accumulating.

Secondly, strengthen the quadriceps muscles so that they are better able to serve as shock-absorbers and stabilizers. Eccentric training is thought to be particularly beneficial in this respect.

Thirdly, stretching exercises to increase flexibility in both the quadriceps and the hamstrings may be beneficial.

Finally, taking steps to lose weight will reduce the amount of strain placed on the knee joints, which will also serve as a preventative measure.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017