By Erin Higins, DPT
If you've ever had pain just under your kneecap that gets worse with activities such as stairs, squatting, and jumping, you've probably experienced patellar tendonitis, commonly called jumper's knee.
What is it? Your patellar tendon is the band of fibers that connects your kneecap to your shin bone. With overuse the tendon can become inflamed and irritated. This can lead to tendonitis. People with patellar tendonitis commonly complain of pain under their kneecap that starts randomly and gets worse over time. The pain is often worse with activities such as squatting, jumping, stairs, and prolonged walking or running. Another common complaint is pain when standing after prolonged sitting, or when walking upon waking in the morning. It is typically an overuse injury and commonly occurs with a sudden increase in activity or when starting a new exercise routine.
What to do if you have it: Some exercise you can try to self-manage the pain include the following:
1) Ice. After exercising or if your knee is particularly sore, make sure you ice in order to decrease swelling and inflammation.
2) Quad stretching. If you're quad is tight (if you can't pull you heel to your butt), you may be putting too much stress on your patellar tendon. A light quad stretch in the pain-free range can help to loosen your muscle and thus decrease stress on your patellar tendon.
3) Strengthen your quad. Eccentric exercises have been shown to help tendonitis symptoms heal quicker. Eccentric exercise to means loading a muscle while lengthening it. One way to do this is to slowly lower (5 count) into a squat position. You can also try performing the leg press, pushing up with two legs and slowly lowering with just the affected leg. Similar to stretching, this should be relatively pain free when performing to avoid re-aggravating it.
4) Avoid aggravating activities. If you keep doing the activity that irritates your knee, it will keep bothering you - that's why ceasing aggravating activities is vital for healing. Try modifying your exercise with non-impact activities, such as biking or the elliptical, in the meantime. Slowly progress back to your normal activities to avoid re-aggravating it!
5) Patellar band: Finally, using a patella band while exercising can help. The band is strapped just below the knee, over the patellar tendon. It acts as a pulley system to decrease the force on the patellar tendon and thus to decrease pain.
Patellar tendonitis can be a very nagging condition. If you have had pain just below your knee cap for more than one month and feel like you have been unable to manage the pain on your own, contact your local physical therapist or other medical professional to ensure proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan to help get you back to your previous activity level.