Patellar Tendinopathy aka “Jumpers Knee”

Recently I sought treatment for an ailing knee injury that had been bothering me for some time, particularly after a long night at work or following a grueling plyometric workout.  I felt a burning, aching sensation on the front of my kneecap, especially when my knee was bent or when driving.  For a few weeks I took ibuprofen and chalked it up to old age (LOL!).  I’m currently prepping for my next show and thus, the intensity and duration of my workouts has increased in the last few weeks.  During this time I began to notice that this nagging pain wasn’t letting up and it was time to do something about it.

It’s no secret that I’m very keen on incorporating plyometrics and sprints into my workouts to help with fat loss and  development of my leg muscles.  Unfortunately, over time, this type of training has led to an overuse injury known as Patellar Tendinopathy or as it is commonly referred to in the Sports Medicine world, “Jumpers Knee”.

The diagram on the left illustrates the basic anatomy of the knee and you can see the patella tendon is a thick ligament that joins the patella (knee cap) to the tibia (shinbone).  When athletes put their knees under a lot of strain, particularly during explosive (jumping) type movements or movements involving frequent changes in direction, this repeated strain can result in micro tears of the patella tendon and ultimately, degeneration of this very important ligament.  This results is Patellar Tendinopathy which can cause pain, swelling and stiffness in the knee.

To my peril, I have noticed very good results from plyometric, sprint and jump training when I incorporate this type of activity into my workouts.  Athletes who are involved in activities where they are repetitively jumping (basketball, volleyball) or making frequent position changes (football) are at risk for this type of injury.  Left untreated, Jumpers Knee can worsen to the point where surgery is needed to repair the patellar tendon.

So how do you know if you have jumpers knee?  Here are the main symptoms of this condition:

  1. Pain at the bottom and front of the kneecap, especially when pressure is applied or when palpated.
  2. Pain can occur after exercise only (least severe), pain that limits performance during exercise (more severe) or pain before, during and after exercise AND during normal daily activities (most severe).
  3. Anterior knee pain when the quadriceps muscles are contracted.

My treatment plan for Patellar Tendinopathy has involved 4 components:

  1. Ice– applying an ice pack to my knee, 2-3 times a day for 20-30 minutes.  I try to slap an ice pack on right after I get home from the gym as this really helps with the pain.
  2. Ibuprofen– I don’t like to take any pain medication at all, but I take this as an anti-inflammatory and have been prescribed a course of 600mg, twice a day for 14 days.
  3. A counterforce knee strap– My doctor recommended that I purchase a knee strap to elevate my patella and apply gentle pressure to my patellar tendon.  I bought a “Mueller Jumpers Knee Strap” from Sports Authority and I pretty much wear it all day!  I work on my feet so I definitely make sure that I wear it at work and I never train without it.  This has helped me immensely.  It also came in pink, which is an added plus. J
  4. Activity modification– I always perform a good warm up and stretching routine before I train.  I do still perform sprints but I have been encouraged to take a break from any activity involving jumping for at least a month.  I have significantly decreased the amount of weight that I lift when I perform squats and lunges and I focus mostly on completing a higher number of reps with only my bodyweight and perfect form.

I have noticed a significant improvement in my knee discomfort since I have incorporated this new treatment plan.  I have greatly missed my plyometrics and I’ll admit, at times, it has been frustrating for me to train my lower body along the recommended guidelines of my physician.  It’s not easy to train how you want to when you have an injury, but the most important thing to remember is that you have only one body and you must take care of it!  It is foolish to ignore injuries as if they are not taken care of, you could be looking at the possibility of surgery and a lengthy recovery that will keep you out of the gym and out of shape!

♥ Gillian