Patellar tendonitis (tendinitis) is an acute injury to the patella tendon. Although the term patella tendonitis is at times used to substitute patella tendinopathy (jumper’s knee), they are two different terms. While patellar tendinitis refers to an acute injury to the patella tendon, patella tendinopathy is an overuse injury that affects the knee. Patella tendonitis is more about inflammation of the tendons while tendinopathy is more about degenerative issues in the patella tendon. Patella tendonitis results to a sharp pain at the front of the knee mainly at the lower side of the kneecap. The condition occurs mainly after too much jumping or running, which causes repetitive strain to the patella tendons.
What causes patellar tendonitis?
Most tendons get injuries from gradual wear and tear of the tendons caused by aging or overuse. Any individual is susceptible to a tendon injury but people who make repetitive motions in their sports, jobs or daily activities are more likely to injure their tendons. Tendons are designed to hold high, repetitive weights but if the weight applied is too heavy, the tendon becomes overstressed. If the load continues to be greater, the damage to the patella tendons may become more than the repair, hence causing a tear to the tendon.
The rapid increase in training amount and intensity, poor flexibility on the hamstring and quadriceps muscles, and poor foot posture are the main causes of patellar tendonitis.
Symptoms of the patella tendonitis
The main symptoms associated with patella tendonitis are:
- Anterior knee pain that may worsen with the continued use of the injured tendon
- Tender kneecap that may appear red and warm
- Swollen kneecap if there is inflammation of the tendon
- Crunchy feeling or sound when using the patella tendon
- Knee pain with jumping
- Knee pain with running
The first step to a tendon injury examination involves the physiotherapist questioning your past exercise, exercise regimes, and symptoms. The physiotherapist then conducts a physical examination to the knee area to confirm the diagnosis. In the case where the symptoms are worse or do not get better with early treatment, the physiotherapist will carry out specific diagnostic tests such as MRI tests or an ultrasound scan.
Mild cases of tendonitis may require conservative treatment that includes:
- Avoiding strenuous activity that may make the tendons worse
- Resting the painful area
- Applying ice to the affected area
- Doing stretching and range-of-motion exercises that prevent stiffness.
- Do eccentric single leg decline squats
For severe cases of patella tendonitis, the patient may require rehabilitation and in some extreme cases, surgery becomes an optional treatment.
Tips and tricks for managing daily activities
- Rest is essential to the quick recovery of the patella tendons
- Do strengthening exercises
- Avoid strenuous activity during recovery
Preventing patella tendonitis
Different measures can help minimize the effects of getting patella tendonitis. These measures include:
- Stretching the hamstring and quadriceps muscles to keep them flexible.
- Exercising every muscle leg muscle to make sure they have an even pull. The uneven pull of the muscles may put a strain on the patella tendon.
- A gradual increase in exercises or strenuous activity to the knee.
How long until I get better?
Recovery of the patella tendonitis depends on the severity of the injury to the patella tendon. Mild cases of patella tendonitis may require a few days off exercise while severe cases of patella tendonitis require a longer break from exercise up to 4 months off exercise.
Take home message
Patella tendonitis is a very persistent condition especially if the injury does not fully recover before a patient returns to conducting a strenuous activity. It is important that a victim of the condition rest the leg enough to ensure the full recovery. This will help avoid repetitive cases of the condition.