Jumper's knee — also known as patellar tendonitis or patellar tendinopathy — is an inflammation or injury of the patellar tendon, the cord-like tissue that joins the patella (kneecap) to the tibia (shin bone). Jumper's knee is an overuse injury (when repeated movements cause tissue damage or irritation to a particular area of the body).
Constant jumping, landing, and changing direction can cause strains, tears, and damage to the patellar tendon. So people who regularly play sports that involve a lot of repetitive jumping — like track and field (particularly high-jumping), basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, running, and soccer — can put a lot of strain on their knees.
Jumper's knee can seem like a minor injury that isn't really that serious. Because of this, many athletes keep training and competing and tend to ignore the injury or attempt to treat it themselves. But it's important to know that jumper's knee is a serious condition that can get worse over time and ultimately require surgery. Early medical attention and treatment can help prevent continued damage to the knee.
To understand how jumper's knee happens, it helps to understand how the knee works. The knee, which is the largest joint in the body, provides stability to the leg and allows it to bend, swivel, and straighten. Several parts of the body interact to allow the knee to function properly:
By working together, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments enable the knee to move, bend, straighten, provide strength to jump, and stabilize the leg for landing.
When the knee is extended, the quadriceps muscle pulls on the quadriceps tendon, which in turn pulls on the patella. Then, the patella pulls on the patellar tendon and the tibia and allows the knee to straighten. In contrast, when bending the knee, the hamstring muscle pulls on the tibia, which causes the knee to flex.
In jumper's knee, the patellar tendon is damaged. Since this tendon is crucial to straightening the knee, damage to it causes the patella to lose any support or anchoring. This causes pain and weakness in the knee, and leads to difficulty in straightening the leg.
Common symptoms of jumper's knee include:
Less common symptoms include:
Jumper's knee is first evaluated by a grading system that measures the extent of the injury (grades range from 1 to 5, with grade 1 being pain only after intense activity and grade 5 being daily constant pain and the inability to participate in any sporting activities).
While examining the knee, a doctor or medical professional will ask the person to run, jump, kneel, or squat to determine the level of pain. In addition, an X-ray or MRI might be recommended. Depending on the grade of the injury, treatment can range from rest and icepacks to surgery.
For mild to moderate jumper's knee, treatment includes:
On rare occasions, such as when there's persistent pain or the patellar tendon is seriously damaged, jumper's knee requires surgery. Surgery includes removing the damaged portion of the patellar tendon, removing inflammatory tissue from the lower area (or bottom pole) of the patella, or making small cuts on the sides of the patellar tendon to relieve pressure from the middle area.
After surgery, a rehabilitation program involving strengthening exercises and massage is followed for several months to a year.
Recovering from jumper's knee can take a few weeks to several months. It's best to stay away from any sport or activity that can aggravate the knee and make conditions worse.
But, recovering from jumper's knee doesn't mean that someone can't participate in any sports or activities. Depending on the extent of the injury, low-impact sports or activities can be substituted (for instance, substituting swimming for running). Your doctor will let you know what sports and activities are off-limits during the healing process.
The most important factor in preventing jumper's knee is stretching. A good warm-up regimen that involves stretching the quadriceps, hamstring, and calf muscles can help prevent jumper's knee. It's always a good idea to stretch after exercising, too.
Reviewed by: Kathleen B. O'Brien, MD
Date reviewed: June 2013
|American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) The AAOS provides information for the public on sports safety, and bone, joint, muscle, ligament and tendon injuries or conditions.|
|American College of Sports Medicine This site has tips on staying safe while playing sports and exercising.|
|American Sports Medicine Institute The mission of ASMI is to improve the understanding, prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries through research and education.|
|Bursitis Bursitis, an irritation of the small fluid sacs that provide cushioning in some joints, is often caused by sports-related injuries or repeated use of a particular joint.|
|Runner's Knee Runner's knee is the most common overuse injury among runners, but it can also happen to other athletes who do activities that require a lot of knee bending.|
|Knee Injuries Healthy knees are needed for many activities and sports and getting hurt can mean some time sitting on the sidelines.|
|Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries ACL injuries - which are common in active and athletic people - happen when excessive pressure is put on the knee joint, resulting in a torn ligament.|
|Safety Tips: Soccer Soccer is easy to learn at a young age, and it's great exercise. But it's also a contact sport, and injuries are bound to happen. To help prevent mishaps, follow these safety tips.|
|Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injuries MCL injuries - which are common in active and athletic teens - happen when excessive pressure is put on the knee joint, causing a torn ligament.|
|Repetitive Stress Injuries Repetitive stress injuries happen when too much stress is placed on a part of the body, causing problems like swelling, pain, muscle strain, and tissue damage.|
|Sports and Exercise Safety Playing hard doesn't have to mean getting hurt. The best way to ensure a long and injury-free athletic career is to play it safe from the start. Find out how.|
|Meniscus Tears The key to healing meniscus tears is not to get back into play too quickly. Find out what meniscus tears are and how to treat them.|
|Safety Tips: Basketball It may be fun to play and great exercise, but basketball is also a contact sport, and injuries occur frequently. To help make sure you're doing everything you can to stay safe on the basketball court, follow these safety tips.|
|Osgood-Schlatter Disease Osgood-Schlatter disease (OSD) is an overuse injury that can cause knee pain in teens, especially during growth spurts. Learn more.|
|5 Ways to Prepare for Your Sports Season How can you get ready to play your best season ever? Read these tips for teen athletes.|
|Choosing the Right Sport for You If you're having trouble choosing a sport, this article can help!|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.