Jumper's Knee: All About Patellar Tendonitis

Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on October 14, 2022

Athletes wear bands and straps often, but they aren’t making a fashion statement. Bands under the knee are there for patellar tendon strapping or patellar tendonitis taping: The athletes are trying to prevent patellar tendonitis. Patellar tendonitis is a common knee injury. It's earned the name "jumper's knee" because athletes who jump a lot are more likely to encounter this condition.

What Is Patellar Tendonitis?

Your kneecap (patella) contains an important tendon that connects to your shinbone. Your patellar tendon works with your leg muscles in the thighs to extend your leg at the knee. You likely use your patellar tendon a lot without even realizing it, and if you're an athlete, your knees (and its tendons) are likely working overtime.

Frequent jumping, running, and kicking will all stress your patellar tendon. Patellar tendonitis occurs when this stress becomes too much for the tendon to handle.

Other names. You might see references to patellar tendonitis as "tendinitis" (this is only a spelling difference), or you may see references to patellar tendinosis, which is a different condition. Tendonitis is a short-term, acute injury of the tendon. Tendinosis is a long-term, chronic injury. 

Patellar tendinopathy, meanwhile, is an umbrella term that includes all tendon damage, meaning that patellar tendonitis and tendinosis are forms of tendinopathy.

Patellar Tendonitis Causes

You can get jumper's knee from putting too much stress on your patellar tendon over time. This stress weakens, strains, and tears the tendon until the tissue is inflamed and sore.

When are you more likely to stress the tendon while exercising? There are still many uncertainties about the risk factors for patellar tendonitis. Doctors have pinpointed two main actions that are more likely to cause patellar tendonitis in otherwise healthy individuals.

The first common cause is a sudden change in your physical activity. For example, if you're typically sedentary and suddenly try to run a marathon, you'll overwork your patellar tendons. 

The second common cause is exercising without a proper warm-up. For example, if you're a regular athlete who has to sit out for half a game, you could stress your tendons if you jump into the game without properly warming up.

Who's at Risk of Getting Patellar Tendonitis? 

Adults older than 40. Jumper's knee progresses over a long time, so adults older than 40 are more likely to get it than young adults. 

Athletes. Competitive or professional athletes often run and jump more intensely than the average person. People who participate in these sports in particular are more inclined to get jumper's knee:

  • Basketball
  • Dance
  • Football
  • Gymnastics
  • Running
  • Track and field
  • Volleyball

People with weak or tight leg muscles. The patellar tendons connect to your thigh muscles. If those muscles are tight or weak, there's added stress placed on your patellar tendon. 

People with chronic conditions. Health problems that affect blood flow to the knee may weaken the patellar tendon. Autoimmune conditions can also make you susceptible to patellar tendonitis. 

How to Prevent Patellar Tendonitis

Stretch. Jumping into an intense exercise can stress your patellar tendons, so loosening them beforehand is vital. 

Take your time. Don't rush your stretching and warm-up activities. Give your muscles time to wake up. 

Don't power through. Whether you are stretching or playing in the big game, don't mindlessly push through the pain. Rest and treat pain in your knee before a potential injury gets worse.

Work on your technique. You may add stress to your patellar inadvertently through poor form and technique. Seek guidance from a professional so you can exercise safely.

Use the right equipment. Along with technique, use appropriate equipment that fits. Have a professional fit you for correct shoes, clothing, and gear.

Build muscle. If your muscles are weak, the tendons pick up some of the slack when you are exercising. You can avoid patellar tendonitis by making sure that your muscles can handle the stress you put on them.

Patellar Tendonitis Symptoms

Patellar tendonitis symptoms will vary because no one puts the exact same stress on their tendons. The most common symptoms, though, include:

Pain. Patellar tendonitis causes pain around the patellar tendon. You may notice more pain in the space between your kneecap and shinbone when you bend (or straighten) your knee, jump, run, or walk.

Tenderness. You may notice that the areas around your patellar tendon and kneecap are tender, so they may hurt to touch.

Stiffness. Your knee may become stiff and difficult to move. Stiffness can signify that the patellar tendon is injured even if you are not currently in pain.

Swelling. Stiffness and swelling can both occur in the knee due to inflammation of the patellar tendon.

If it goes untreated, patellar tendonitis can cause tears in your tendon. Symptoms can worsen, and your movement will become more limited.

Patellar Tendonitis Diagnosis

To receive a diagnosis, you'll need to visit your doctor for a physical examination and discuss your medical history. They may perform imaging tests like an X-ray, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Patellar Tendonitis Treatment

Surgery and other invasive treatments are a last resort when treating patellar tendonitis. Treatments typically focus instead on relieving symptoms and strengthening the muscles around the knee. You might try: 

Relaxation. The best form of treatment for patellar tendonitis is resting. Don't participate in regular activities, support your knee, and stay off your feet.

Pain management. You'll likely need to take pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen to manage pain and reduce inflammation. You can also use ice packs to help reduce painful swelling.

Physical therapy. Your doctor will recommend a series of stretches and exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knee.

A patellar tendon strap. A patellar tendon strap supports your knee and patellar tendon enough to reduce stress and relieve pain. It can help your recovery process as you get back onto your feet.

Surgery. In chronic cases or instances when the tendon has ruptured, you may need surgery. 

Patellar Tendonitis Prognosis

It may take several weeks to feel better when you're recovering from patellar tendonitis, especially if your case is severe. Don't rush your recovery process, though. You'll have plenty of time to get back to doing what you love after you've healed. 

Show Sources

Cleveland Clinic: “How a Patellar Tendon Strap Works,” “Patellar Tendonitis,” “Tendinitis or Tendinosis? Why the Difference Is Important, What Treatments Help,” “Tendinopathy.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper’s Knee).”
Mayo Clinic: “Patellar tendinitis.”

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