Patellar tendinopathy is a common knee injury, often also known as “jumper’s knee”. It is a condition that affects the patellar tendon, causing pain and discomfort. In this blog, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this common overuse injury.
What is Patellar Tendinopathy?
The patellar tendon, located just below the kneecap (patella), connects the quadriceps muscles to the tibia bone in the lower leg. The tendon plays a crucial role in knee movement, especially during activities that involve jumping, running, and squatting. Patellar tendinopathy is a degenerative condition that occurs when the patellar tendon becomes irritated, inflamed and damaged due to repeated stress and overuse. It is most commonly seen in athletes who participate in sports that involve repetitive jumping and explosive movements, such as basketball, volleyball and track and field athletic events.
Causes of Patellar Tendinopathy
Patellar tendinopathy typically develops over time due to repetitive stress on the tendon. Some common causes include:
- Overuse: Repeated and excessive stress on the patellar tendon without adequate rest and recovery can lead to microtrauma and breakdown of the tendon fibres.
- Improper Technique: Incorrect biomechanics or poor form during sports activities can increase the strain on the patellar tendon, contributing to its degeneration.
- Muscle imbalances: Weakness or imbalance in the muscles around the knee, especially the quadriceps and hamstrings, can affect the load distribution on the patellar tendon.
- Training Errors: Rapid increases in training intensity, frequency, or duration without proper progression can overwhelm the tendon’s ability to adapt.
- Age and Genetics: Older individuals and those with a family history of tendon-related issues may be more susceptible to developing patellar tendinopathy.
Symptoms of Patellar Tendinopathy
The main presentation of patellar tendinopathy is localized pain at the front of the knee, just below the patella. The pain tends to worsen during activities that load the tendon, such as jumping, squatting, or climbing stairs. Other symptoms may include:
- Stiffness: The knee may feel stiff and uncomfortable, especially after periods of rest.
- Swelling: In some cases, there might be mild swelling around the patellar tendon area.
- Pain with pressure: Pressing on the patellar tendon may elicit pain and discomfort.
Treatment and Management
Patellar tendinopathy is a condition that requires careful management to promote healing and prevent further damage. Here are some approaches that can be effective:
- Rest and Activity Modifications: Giving the tendon sufficient time to heal by avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain is crucial. This may involve modifying or reducing the intensity of training.
- Physiotherapy: A physiotherapist can create an individualised exercises programme to address muscle imbalances, improve biomechanics, and gradually strengthen the patellar tendon.
- Eccentric Exercises: Eccentric exercises involve lengthening the tendon under load. These exercises can help stimulate tendon remodeling and improve its capacity to handle stress.
- Icing and Compression: Applying ice and using compression techniques can help reduce inflammation and manage pain.
- Medications: Over the counter pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications can help manage pain and discomfort.
- Biomechanical Assessment: Evaluating and correcting any biomechanical issues or improper techniques that may contribute to the condition can aid in recovery.
- Injections: In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be considered to alleviate pain and promote healing.
- Surgery: Surgical intervention is generally considered only when conservative treatments have failed. Surgical procedures may involve removing damaged tissue or making small incisions to stimulate healing.
Patellar tendinopathy is a common overuse injury that can affect individuals who engage in repetitive activities that stress the patellar tendon. Recognising the causes, symptoms and appropriate treatment options are essential for managing the condition effectively. By following a structured rehabilitation plan, seeking professional guidance and allowing sufficient time for healing, individuals can often return to their active lifestyles with reduced pain and improved function.
It is good to remember that prevention is key. Proper training techniques, gradual progression, and adequate rest can go a long way in minimizing the risk of developing patellar tendinopathy.