What is Jumper's Knee?
Did you know that around 50% of athletes end their career due to knee issues related to jumper’s knee? Studies have shown that patellar tendinopathy, AKA jumper’s knee, is one of the most common knee injuries in basketball and volleyball players.
It is NOT a inflammation of the tendon.
Jumper’s knee is a degenerative process of the patellar tendon NOT an inflammatory process of the tendon. This is important to understand because most people think that when they have jumpers knee they should rest, but it actually will do more harm than good. Moreover, the patellar tendon is not inflamed, but has degenerative changes from failed healing due to overuse. The biggest takeaway about jumper’s knee is that it’s a gradual degenerative injury as opposed to an acute injury. In other words, there will be no true acute mechanism of injury, but instead it will be an overuse injury.
What are Signs & Symptoms?
As we mentioned previously it is a degenerative injury. Therefore, athletes will present with pain that has been going on for at least 4 weeks. If the knee pain lasted less than 4 weeks and you are back to playing sports pain free, it was most likely patellar tendinitis.
2. Sharp/Burning Pain Below/Above the Kneecap
The pain that you will feel is sharp or aching/burning pain sensation located slightly below the kneecap, or where the patellar tendon attaches to your shin bone (tibia). Sometimes (though rare) you may experience pain above the knee cap, which is jumper’s knee but classified as quadriceps tendinopathy. That is the similar injury Kawhi Leonard experienced during his season with the San Antonio Spurs. Check out the article HERE
3. Commonly On Your Jumping Leg
It usually occurs on your take off leg when jumping. In other words, if you are a one foot jumper, its the leg that you jump off with. It is not as common, but it can occur in both knees. The knee pain usually occurs during or after the activity that requires jumping, cutting or running.
How Do You Get Jumper's Knee?
1. Increase in Activity Levels
One of the most common reasons is a large spike in activity, which causes an overload to the function of the knee. Any athlete beginning a plyometric program without proper progression may lead to an increased risk for jumper’s knee. Another common example is playing in a high volume tournament that included several games, and your knee was not ready to tolerate the repetitive loads.
2. Return to Training After Time Off
For example, during this time of the pandemic where there were no sporting activities, returning back to basketball tournaments and games without proper progression will increase your risk for jumper’s knee. Check out this youtube video regarding readiness following the pandemic to decrease your risk for jumpers knee!
Furthermore, It is not just limited to the pandemic, but also after an injury. When you are recovering from an injury, you are not loading the tendon as you normally were. As a result, this places you at an increased risk for injury when you return back to playing basketball or volleyball without proper progressive loading.
Phases of Jumper's Knee
Symptoms present after activity only, not associated with functional impairments
Pain present during and after activity but does not limit performance and resolves with rest
Symptoms present continually and associated with progressively impaired performance
Complete tendon rupture
Do I have Jumper's Knee?
A common test we use to diagnose jumper’s knee is the single leg decline squat test. In this exam we find out how well your patellar tendon can tolerate load. In the video below we describe how to perform the test and find out if you have symptoms with it. We use the information from this test, as well as, how the athlete is presenting with symptoms to help determine if someone has Jumper’s Knee.
Am I at Risk for Jumper's Knee
As we mentioned above, an increase in activity or returning back to activity without proper progression places you at risk for jumper’s knee. Studies have shown several risk factors that are associated with jumper’s knee.
Here are a list of these risk factors:
- Increased activity volume/frequency or intensity
- Decreased hip extensor strength
- Diminished hamstring/quad flexibility
- Inadequate ankle mobility
- Increased jumping ability due to increased values of ground reaction forces during landing
- Decreased quadriceps strength
- Stiff knee landing pattern
- Worn out shoes that lost their shock absorption properties
- Flat Feet
What Does Rehab for Jumper’s Knee Look Like? Is it Preventable?
Generally, we recommend performing progressive isometric and eccentric training to properly load your tendons and meet the demands of basketball! Furthermore, we have address mobility and strength deficits at the hip and ankle joints, as well as, optimizing movement mechanics.
Everhart et al. Treatment Options for Patellar Tendinopathy: A systematic Review
Malliaras et al. Achilles and Patellar Tendinopathy Loading Programmes
Patellar Tendinopathy Clinical Review APTA 2019.
Rio et al. Isometric exercise to reduce pain in patellar tendinopathy in season: is it effective on the road?
Dr. Gabriel Ignacio PT, DPT, OCS, TPI
Dr. Marco Lopez PT, DPT, CSCS
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