Tendons are the tough fibres that connect your muscles to your bones. Most tendon injuries happen near joints, such as your shoulder, elbow, knee or ankle. A tendon injury may seem to have happened suddenly, but they are actually usually the result of repeatedly overloading your tendon. Patellar (knee) tendonitis is one such injury, commonly caused by putting repeated stress on your patellar tendon. As a result of this stress, tiny tears appear in the tendon, which your body tries to repair. As use and stress continue, however, these tears cause your tendon to weaken and become inflamed. If left untreated, this leads to tendonitis.
Tendonitis Knee Symptoms
As with most overuse injuries, pain is usually the first symptom of patellar tendonitis. This usually occurs between your patella (kneecap) and the area where the tendon attaches to your tibia (shinbone). People commonly first notice the pain at the start of physical activity, or after finishing a strenuous workout. The pain will gradually worsen over time until you are no longer able to play sport, or manage common everyday tasks, such as getting up from a seated position, or climbing stairs.
Causes Of Tendonitis Of The Knee
The patellar tendon undergoes its highest levels of stress during activities that involve jumping and landing. When you jump, your quadriceps muscle contracts explosively. This straightens your knee and pushes you into the air. When you land, your quadriceps muscle once again comes into play, helping to absorb the force by allowing your knee to bend. Excessive jumping and landing, however, puts considerable strain on the patella tendon. This is why patellar tendonitis is often called “jumpers’ knee.”
Because of the nature of their sport, basketball players, together with those who play soccer, football, volleyball, tennis, skiing, dancing and gymnastics – as well as high- and long jumpers – often suffer from tendonitis of the knee. It also occurs quite frequently in older people as a result of degeneration, which is caused by repetitive micro-damage over time. Occasionally, patella tendonitis can be caused by not allowing an acute injury to the tendon to heal properly. This is known as traumatic patellar tendonitis, which is far less common than overuse tendonitis.
In addition to playing the sports we’ve just mentioned, there are other factors that can put you at risk of developing patellar tendonitis. These include:
- Changing your running shoes – this can put increased stress on your tendon as it adapts to the new feel and support of the shoes.
- Muscular imbalance – occasionally, depending on the nature of the exercise you do, some muscles in your legs can be more powerful than others. The stronger muscles then pull harder on your patellar tendon. This uneven pulling can, over time, cause tendonitis.
- Tight leg muscles – having tight quadriceps and hamstrings can increase the strain on your patellar tendon.
Preventing Knee Tendonitis
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing full-blown patellar tendonitis. These are particularly important if you fall into one of the higher-risk categories.
- Strengthen your muscles – Strong quadriceps muscles are far more able to handle the usual stresses that can lead to patellar tendonitis. Try doing eccentric exercises, which involve slowly lowering your leg after extending your knee (you can do this while sitting on a chair). This is an excellent exercise for building stronger quads.
- Use the correct technique – When starting a new sport, or using new exercise equipment for the first time, make sure you are using your body correctly. Incorrect technique can place undue strain on your tendons.
- Don’t play through the pain – Pain is your body’s way of letting you know that something’s not right. If you ignore it for long enough, an injury is a given. As soon as you begin to notice pain in your knee that is triggered by exercise, stop! Ice the painful area and rest. Avoid any activities that stress your patellar tendon.
When To See A Doctor
Self-help methods are often effective if you start as soon as you notice pain. Ice and rest are very often all that is needed, but if your pain continues, or gets worse, or if you notice any redness or swelling, then it’s definitely advisable to see a doctor.
Dr Baba is a highly qualified and experienced sports medicine physician and orthopaedic surgeon. He consults from conveniently located offices in Umhlanga and Ballito, so if you’d like a professional, honest assessment of your knee injury, contact us today.