Jumper's Knee: The Complete Guide
You don’t have to be a jumper to get jumper’s knee, but that activity would put you in a high-risk group. Patellar tendinitis, the medical term for jumper’s knee, is a frequently reported overuse injury in many sports. It's an inflammation of the patellar tendon.
“The patellar tendon is a continuation of the large and powerful quadriceps muscle group,” says Jennifer Lewis, PT, ATC, Performance Physical Therapist at Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix, Arizona. “It covers the patella (kneecap) and attaches to the top of the lower leg where you can feel the boney knob just below the patella.”
How it Happens
In most cases, the inflammation is a result of overdoing an activity such as running, jumping and kicking, all of which place continuous stress on the patellar tendon when it is not strong enough to handle the excessive load. Specifically, it happens when there is repeated impact of the leg against a hard surface when the knee is partially flexed (bent).
“This overuse causes very small tears in the tendon leading to inflammation and pain,” adds Lewis. This condition can deteriorate by further tearing or degeneration of the tendon, and in extreme cases, the patellar tendon can sustain enough damage to cause a complete rupture.”
By the Numbers
Percentage of jumping athletes who sustain jumper’s knee
2 to 1
Male-to-female incidence of jumper’s knee
Percentage of cases in which symptoms disappear by avoiding high-impact activities
Who’s at Risk
Jumper’s knee is most common in basketball, volleyball and soccer, which require explosive jumping movements. The condition is also seen in long jumpers and high jumpers, as well as in walkers, figure skaters and mountain climbers. The load placed on the knees is up to 7 times the body weight of a soccer player during the kicking movement and between 9 and 11 times body weight in volleyball when a player lands after a jump.
The following symptom come on gradually:
- Pain and/or swelling below the kneecap
- Pain that is especially noticeable when sitting, straightening the leg, pressing against the tendon, or going up and down stairs
- Pain that increases with physical activity
- Rest for 2-4 weeks or until the symptoms disappear.
- Apply ice for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day for 2-3 days or until the pain subsides.
- Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen may relieve pain. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen may relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
- See a doctor if the pain persists even during daily activities.
- Depending on the severity of the condition, recovery could last from 2 weeks to several months.
- Cross-train in activities that do not place undue stress on the knees (swimming, flexibility/range of motion exercises)
- Gently stretch before and after exercise.
- Apply ice packs for 15-20 minutes after an exercise session.
Use these prehab exercises recommended by Lewis and other Athletes’ Performance physical therapists to strengthen the knee and make the joint more flexible:
- Glute Stretch - Prone
- Hip Rotation - External - Sidelying
- Soft Tissue Massage (with Foam Roll, Performance Stick, tennis ball or Trigger Point Roller) to the quadriceps, groin muscles and iliotibial band
How to Avoid This Injury
- Pace yourself. Schedule days off. Give the regeneration process time to have an effect.
- Avoid playing and practicing on hard surfaces when practical.
- Wear shoes that are designed for your specific sport.
Include these movements in your warm-up before training or competition:
Jim Brown, Ph.D. has written 14 books on health, medicine, and sports. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Post, Sports Illustrated for Women and Better Homes & Gardens. He also writes for the Duke School of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic and Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation.
- Jennifer Lewis, PT, ATC, Performance Physical Therapist, Athletes’ Performance, Phoenix, Arizona
- American Journal of Sports Medicine
- Georgia Tech Sports Medicine Newsletter
- Hughston Health Alert
- University of Virginia Health System