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Patella Tendonitis (Jumper’s Knee)

USWNR Orthopedics

Tendons are like ropes which connect muscles to bone. The patellar tendon connects the kneecap (the patella) to the shinbone (the tibia). Patellar tendonitis is the condition that arises when the tendon and the tissues that surround it become irritated and painful from overuse, especially from jumping activities. This usually occurs in teenage athletes who participate in sports that have a lot of repetitive jumping, including volleyball and basketball. However, patellar tendonitis can also be seen in sports such as running and soccer.

What causes patella tendonitis?

Patellar tendonitis is a common injury caused by overuse and stress on the patellar tendon. The repetitive stress causes tiny tears deep in the tendon that the body attempts to repair. Occasionally, the symptoms may be caused by sudden injury to the tendon; however, this is much less common.

What are the signs and symptoms of patella tendonitis?

Patellar tendonitis usually causes pain directly over the patellar tendon, just below the kneecap. Most growing athletes have increased sharp pain during activities and pain may continue as a dull pain after activity. The tendon will often be sore with pressure as well.

How is patella tendonitis diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed by a pediatric sports medicine physician based on your growing athlete's symptoms, their history of pain and activity pattern, and by physical exam. The sports medicine physician may consider getting an X-ray, an ultrasound or an MRI of your growing athlete’s knee if the diagnosis is unclear or to rule out other causes of pain.

How is patella tendonitis treated?


  • Anti-inflammatory medications: Pain control with anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen or naproxen) can help decrease inflammation and pain.
  • Progressive loading: The tendons in your lower body are designed for load and appropriate reintroduction of forces into the tendon is important to bridge your return to activities.
  • Rest: The most important step in treatment is to appropriately modify the activities that are causing the pain.
  • Strap, sleeve or brace: Your doctor may provide a support strap, compression sleeve or knee brace to wear during activity. This helps take pressure off the tendon.
  • Strengthening: Strengthening the muscles throughout your core, hips and lower extremities, as well as working on your balance can also help reduce the pressure to your patellar tendon.
  • Stretching: Stretching exercises focusing on the quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles may help take pressure off the patellar tendon.
  • Surgery: Rarely, patients undergo surgery for this condition. Your sports medicine physician may recommend surgery if conservative approaches are not working after six months or so of treatment.

When can my child return to activity and sports?

The decision to return to sports will be determined by the Sports Medicine team based on the severity of your child's pain and the injury. Modifications to your child's usual activity may be needed to help decrease the stress placed on the tendon.

How can patella tendonitis be prevented in the future?

Appropriate stretching, strengthening and management of loads to the patellar tendon can all play a role in reducing factors that may contribute to a recurrence of the problem.