Volleyball, basketball, and track & field have something in common – they all require repetitive jumping! For the younger athlete, participating in these sports repetitively, especially at high levels, can cause a condition called Jumper’s Knee, which is a painful condition that can get worse if not treated properly.
What is Jumper’s Knee?
Jumper’s knee, also called patellar tendinopathy, is a condition where repeated wear and tear to the patellar tendon causes degeneration, which can present as pain, fatigue, weakness, or eventually a tear.
The patellar tendon joins the patella (kneecap) to the tibia (shinbone) and tightens when we contract our quadriceps muscle on the front of our thigh. Jumping puts this tendon under high stress due to the force generated by the quadriceps. Frequent jumping in sport can lead to microscopic damage and degeneration of the tendon. If left untreated, the tendon can get weaker and possibly tear.
The injury tends to progress through stages that are defined by the symptoms experienced:
- Stage 1: Patellar tendon pain after sport activities
- Stage 2: Pain around the patellar tendon at the beginning of sport activities, but the pain goes away with warm-up of the legs.
- Stage 3: Pain becomes more constant, occurring at rest and during activity. The patellar tendon may become weaker or easily fatigued.
- Stage 4: The patellar tendon tears, causing significant pain and loss of function.
Who gets Jumper’s Knee?
Jumper’s knee is most common in athletes in their teens or twenties, and less likely after the thirties. The people most often affected are volleyball and basketball players, as well as long and high jumpers. More elite athletes are more likely to get this injury, and it occurs more often in males than females.
What else could this be?
Jumper’s Knee occurs most often with high-intensity sports. Other sport-related injuries that can mimic Jumper’s Knee include:
- Patellofemoral pain syndrome
- Osgood-Schlatter disease
- Meniscus injury
- Quadriceps muscle injury
Physiotherapy treatment for Jumper’s Knee
If Jumper’s Knee is ignored, it can progress to a tear in the patellar tendon, which can cause loss of function and a prolonged period of rest from sport. Accordingly, working with a physiotherapist can ensure an optimal recovery and proper return to sport. Here are some key pieces of a physiotherapy program for treating Jumper’s Knee:
- Activity modification: Repeatedly putting the patellar tendon under high strain prevents it from healing. In contrast, minimizing or avoiding sport activities can help bring the patellar tendon the rest it needs to start healing. Work with your physiotherapist to come up with the timeline for returning to your sport!
- Exercise: Tendons heal more effectively when they are regularly loaded. Therefore, engaging in progressive strengthening exercises can help the tendon develop resilience as it heals. Stretching the muscles of the leg can also provide the tendon with more rest.
- Manual therapy: Myofascial release can help to improve muscle flexibility and pain around the knee.
- Taping: Applying tape to the patella can help to reduce the strain on the patellar tendon.
- Dry needling: Dry needling can help to stimulate the quadriceps muscle, which can improve the flexibility and strength of the muscle.
- Shockwave therapy: In cases where the tendon has been painful for a longer time (3-6 months) shockwave therapy can help to restart the healing process.
If you are experiencing knee pain with your sport, book an appointment with us and start your journey to recovery!
About The Author
Jonathan Rankin obtained his MSc in Physiotherapy at McMaster University, and also completed both a BSc and an MSc in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. He has a strong background in exercise, from working as a personal trainer at the University of Ottawa to conducting research on exercise during pregnancy in his master’s degree.