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Patellar Tendinopathy, a.k.a Jumper’s Knee

Team Canada Volleyball physiotherapist Hilary Mallinger breaks down the facts and best ways to treat this common condition affecting many young athletes.

Source: Chrissy Benz, @cb_sportphotography

What is patellar tendinopathy?

Patellar tendinopathy, or Jumper’s Knee, is pain and inflammation in the patellar tendon, which lies just below the patella, or knee cap. The patellar tendon’s function is to transfer force from the quadriceps muscles to the tibia, causing the knee to extend. Patellar tendinopathy a condition primarily found in young (15-30 years of age) athletes whose sport involves significant jumping. Common sports in which athletes present with this condition include volleyball, basketball, athletics (predominantly jumping events), tennis and football. The demands of these sports involve high loads and a lot of repetitive loading on the patellar tendon, particularly in jumping and landing, but also in quick changes of movement and deceleration. Elite volleyball athletes have an extremely high percentage of Jumper’s Knee; as many as 40-50% will experience this condition.

What causes patellar tendinopathy?

There are several anthropometric (measurements of the human body) factors that contribute to patellar tendinopathy. These factors can include: weight, body mass index, leg length difference, structure of the arch of the foot, strength and range of motion of the quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as vertical jump performance. However, the most common factor that contributes to jumper’s knee is chronic repetitive tendon overload, or poor load management. (For more information on load management, refer to previous articles published on Momentum Volleyball by this author)!

Source: Chrissy Benz, @cb_sportphotography

How can you tell if you have patellar tendinopathy?

If you, your athlete or your child has patellar tendinopathy, signs and symptoms that may be described include:

  • Pain localized just below patella, or knee cap
  • Pain in patellar tendon with load-related activities including:
    • Jumping and landing
    • Coming down stairs
    • Squatting and lunging (especially on decline)
  • Pain in patellar tendon that occurs instantly with loading and usually stops immediately when the load is removed
    • Pain may improved with repeated loading

How can you manage patellar tendinopathy?

Ensure you or your child works with a physiotherapist who understands the sport and active management of tendinopathies, and have a strength plan from your physiotherapist or strength coach in place. Patellar tendinopathy is best treated used a graduated exercise program, and NOT just with rest! Most importantly, loads need to be increased gradually and managed over the course of a season(s) so as to reduce likelihood or severity of onset of jumper’s knee.

Hilary Mallinger is the team physiotherapist for Volleyball Canada Senior Women’s Indoor National Team. Hilary is the co-owner of Cadence Physiotherapy in Scarborough, Ontario and specializes in sports rehabilitation, particularly overhead, jumping and running sports.

Sources:

  1. Hymann, Garett. “Jumper’s Knee in Volleyball Athlete’s: Advancements in Diagnosis and Treatment.” Current Sports Medicine Reports, vol. 7, iss. 5, 2008, pp. 296-302., https://doi.org/ 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31818709a5
  2. Schwartz, Aaron, et al. “Patellar Tendinopathy.” Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, vol. 7, no. 5, 2015, pp. 415–420., https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738114568775.
  3. Rees, Johnathon, et al. “Management of Tendinopathy.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 37, no. 9, 2009, pp. 1855-1867., https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546508324283

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Hilary Mallinger is a Registered Physiotherapist and Co-Owner of Cadence Physiotherapy, located in Scarborough, ON. A native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Hilary completed her Master of Science in Physical Therapy at Queen's University. Prior to this, she studied at the University of Toronto, completing a Bachelor of Kinesiology with a minor in Music History and Culture. Hilary has the privilege of working as the team physiotherapist with Volleyball Canada Senior Women’s Indoor National Team. Within the GTA community, Hilary has worked as a team physiotherapist with Markham Revolution Volleyball Club, as well as working with Lennard Krapp and Alex Poletta in their Beach Volleyball Academy. She has also worked with Barrie Rugby Football Club, and has volunteered with Figure Skating Canada, Ontario Parasport Games and at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Hilary trains with Elevate Running Club as a long distance runner, is an avid skier and plays softball.

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