The tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone is vulnerable to overuse injury. Here’s how to sidestep—or rehab—it.
Patellar tendinitis (aka “jumper’s knee”) is characterized by pain just below the kneecap and at the top of the tibia (the shinbone). The pain sharpens during leg exertion, but if the tendinitis progresses enough, any knee movement will hurt, especially doing stairs.
The patellar tendon connects your kneecap to your tibia. It’s one of the main reasons you’re able to extend your lower leg, and patellar tendinitis is a classic overuse injury—usually caused by violating the “too” rule: too much, too fast. Repeated stress on the tendon causes irritation that the body can’t repair fast enough, and pain results.
Ignoring the pain is a bad idea. Overusing an already overused and irritated tendon can cause tendinosis, a buildup of fluid in the tendon. Eventually, it could tear. Start treatment as soon as you feel the pain, and you’ll shorten both your suffering and your recovery time.
Take it easy. Lay off hard exertion of the knee, especially jumping. Swimming is possible if you can do it pain free. Otherwise, do intense upper-body and core workouts to maintain fitness.
Ice it. Apply ice for 15 minutes several times a day to help relieve pain.
Try a strap. A patellar tendon strap that goes around your leg just under the knee can support the tendon and relieve pain.
Massage it. Rubbing the area may help lessen the pain and promote healing.
Prevent Or Rehab It
Stretch your quads and hamstrings. Inflexible quadriceps and hamstrings can put extra stress on the patellar tendon. Basic, disciplined stretches of both muscles can help prevent tendinitis and help heal it.
Try eccentric training. Do leg extensions—however, lower the weight slowly after lifting it at normal speed. If you’re rehabbing the tendon, you can first do this the old school way by having a partner apply resistance to your lower leg and then move to a leg extension machine as your rehab progresses. Lowering the weight slowly challenges the tendon and the muscles around it, making them all stronger. This helps prevent future cases.
NOTE: Normally I’m not a fan of leg extensions as a regular training exercise—they don’t mimic any real-world movement and put excessive torque on the knee—but in cases of rehabbing patellar tendinitis, used as described, they can be effective.
When To Call A Doctor
If these treatments don’t help, see your doctor. He or she will examine and diagnose you and, if warranted, prescribe anti-inflammatories and physical therapy.
New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 33-time marathon finisher and 13-time Ironman. His book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.