Is it safe to say that Spring is here? I’m sure those avid runners sure hope so. As you return to outdoor running, you notice that knee pain that started a few months ago is still there. Pain in the patella tendon (the tendon that connects your knee cap (patella) to your shin bone (tibia)) can be a deceitful injury—seemingly improved with rest, only to return later. Find out if you have it and what you can do to resolve it.
The patella tendon is used when you extend your knee. It can get inflamed from repetitive stress, which can then lead to weakness. In addition to running, it can become aggravated with kicking or jumping. Therefore, athletes involved in soccer, basketball and volleyball also suffer with this. Initially, the pain occurs when you start an activity or after an intense session. As the pain worsens, it will interfere with your sport while performing it and impede your day-to-day function.
Pain anywhere along this tendon from the bottom of the patella to your shin bone and pain when you try to straighten your knee are good indicators you have it. If so, you will want to rest and ice your knee (10-15 minutes at a time) for 1-2 weeks. If symptoms continue to linger, you should consult with your doctor or physical therapist. Otherwise, the longer you wait, the weaker your knee becomes.
If you see your doctor, they may refer you to physical therapy. Your PT will evaluate your knee and determine which stretches and strengthening exercises will be appropriate. Specifically, stretching your quadriceps (front of thigh) and hamstrings (back of thigh), may be in order (go to the stretching section of our website here and look for stretches to the hamstring and rectus femoris). In addition, they may use modalities to help decrease pain and inflammation. Proper footwear and body mechanics in your sport will be other areas that your therapist will address. Ultimately, the goal is to rest the tendon and improve biomechanics to unload the tendon and eventually strengthening to build it back up. This combination will help to resolve your pain and improve your overall mobility to get you back to running or other activities you enjoy.
By Effie Koustas, MPT