The patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the lower leg bone. Tendinopathy is an injury to the tendon. It can cause pain, swelling, and limited movement. The injury can include:
- Tendonitis—inflammation of the tendon
- Tendinosis—tiny tears in the tendon tissue with no significant inflammation
Treatment depends on the severity of the injury.
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Tendinopathy is generally caused by overuse of a muscle-tendon unit. Over time, the strain on the tendon causes structural changes within the tendon.
Patellar tendinopathy occurs from overuse of the patellar tendon. Overuse may be caused by any activity that requires:
- Intense running
- Frequent stops and starts
- Frequent impact to the knee
- Tendon weakness from certain diseases
Physically active teenagers and young adults are at higher risk. Factors that increase your chance of developing patellar tendinopathy include:
- An increase in the frequency of training
- A sudden increase in the intensity of training
- Changing from one sport to another
- Training on a hard surface
- Repeated improper movements while training
- Muscle weakness or imbalance
- Involvement in basketball, soccer, volleyball, or running
Symptoms may include:
- Pain and tenderness in the patellar tendon below the kneecap
- Pain or tightness in the knee when bending, squatting, or straightening the leg
- Discomfort in the knee when jumping, squatting, or walking up stairs
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
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Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. Options include:
Your knee will need time to heal. RICE is often the main part of treatment:
- Rest—Activities will need to be restricted at first to reduce shock or vibrations to the knee. Normal activities will be gradually introduced as the injury heals.
- Ice—Ice therapy may help relieve swelling.
- Compression—Compression bandages can provide gentle pressure to help move fluids out of the area.
- Elevation—Keeping the affected area elevated can help fluids drain out or prevent fluids from building up.
A strap called a counterforce brace may be advised to help support the tendon and reduce pain.
Over-the-counter or prescription medications may be advised to reduce pain. Cortisone injections may also be used if other treatments do not reduce inflammation.
A physical therapist will assess the knee. An exercise program will be created to help recovery and to strengthen the muscle.
You may need surgery if you have advanced damage to the tendon. Your doctor may also recommend surgery if you have not responded to other treatment methods over a period of several months.
To reduce your chances of getting patellar tendinopathy, take these steps:
- Avoid activities and sports that repeatedly stress the kneecaps, especially those that involve jumping.
- Perform quadriceps muscle stretching and strengthening exercises.
- Increase the frequency and intensity of your exercises gradually.
- Learn proper techniques for sports.
- Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
- Reviewed: 03/2016
- Updated: 04/29/2014
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