Patellar Tendonitis Exercises (Jumper’s Knee)

Jumpers knee exercises

Jumper’s knee or Patellar tendonitis exercises are an important part of a full rehabilitation program. They should include both stretching and strengthening, in particular, eccentric quadricps strengthening exercises. Eccentric quad exercises mean the muscle is contracting at the same time as it lengthens.

Stretching the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh are particularly important and should be done regularly if pain allows. Eccentric strengthening exercises are usually advised, particularly for chronic more long term cases.

Patellar tendonitis stretching exercises

Assessing flexibility

A good place to start is testing the flexibility of the hip flexor and quadriceps muscles. This can be tested by performing the Thomas test.

Thomas test for hip flexor and quadriceps flexibility
  • Sit on the end of a couch and pull the knee up to your chest. Holding this position, lay back onto the couch.
  • The thigh of the free leg should be horizontal. If it rides up, this indicates possible tight hip flexor muscles (Rectus femoris or Iliopsoas).
  • The shin of the free leg should hang vertically. If not then this may indicate tight Quadriceps muscles.

Quadriceps stretch

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  • The quads can be stretched in either the standing or lying position. In standing you can hold onto something for balance if you need to or try holding your ear with the opposite arm.
  • Aim to keep the knees together and pull the leg up straight not twisted. You should feel a stretch at the front of the leg which should not be painful.
  • In the early acute stages of treatment, hold stretches for around 10 seconds. Later on, when the inflammation has gone stretches should be held for around 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times and stretch at least 3 times a day.

Hip flexor stretch

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This exercise stretches the iliopsoas muscle and rectus femoris. Place one knee on the floor and the other foot out in front with the knee bent. Be careful to use on a mat or padding under the painful knee so as not to aggravate the injury.

  • Push your hips forward and keep your back upright. You should feel a stretch at the front of the hip and upper thigh.
  • Hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat 3 times and stretch at least 3 times a day. This exercise stretches the Rectus Femoris and Iliopsoas muscles which flex the hip.
  • Be careful if lifting the leg up leaving only the knee on the floor. If it is painful at the knee do not do it.
  • Ensure there is plenty of padding to avoid injuring the knee.

Patellar tendonitis strengthening exercises

Strengthening exercises are a very effective part of healing patella tendinopathy or jumper’s knee. But knowing which exercises to do and when to do them is essential.

Exercises should begin as soon as pain allows and be gradually progressed over a period of 6 months or more. They can be separated into three phases. As a guide phase 1 lasts for the first 3 months. The aim is to increase strength and strength endurance.

Phase 2, from 3 months to 6 months you can begin to increase the power and speed endurance. From 6 months onwards more sports specific rehabilitation is appropriate.


Isometric exercises for Patellar tendonitis

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  • If your knee is particularly painful then begin with isometric or static contractions of the quadriceps muscles. Strengthening for the calf muscles is also important and can be done without much strain on the patella tendon. You should progress to single leg eccentric squat exercises as soon as pain allows. Applying ice or cold therapy after exercises can help avoid pain and inflammation.
  • Contract the quadriceps muscles, hold for a few seconds and relax. This can be done in a standing position, seated or lying face up or face down. Initially begin with 3 sets of 8 repetitions, holding for 5 seconds. Build up to 4 sets of 12 repetitions holding for 10 seconds.
  • If it is painful during, after or the next day then reduce the load. Athletes with good quadriceps muscle bulk should aim to progress onto single leg eccentric squats as soon as possible.

Knee extension

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  • This can be done initially with a band, or preferably with a leg extension machine, if doing full weight bearing exercises is still painful. It is a step on from isometric exercises but not likely to trigger the same kind of pain that single leg drop squats.
  • Begin with 3 sets of 10 repetitions with light resistance concentrating on the last few degrees of motion as the leg straightens as this is the range of motion which works the vastus medialis on the inside of the knee more.
  • Do no more on the good leg than you are able to do on the injured leg. Gradually increase the resistance when 3 sets of 10 or 12 reps become comfortable. Progress to single leg eccentric squats as soon as pain allows.

Eccentric squats (Patellar tendonitis exercises)

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  • This is probably the most important exercise for the treatment of chronic patellar tendinopathy. Begin with double leg squats and progress as soon as possible onto single leg squats.
  • The exercise is performed by squatting down very slowly and more quickly up. Try to use the good leg to aid the upwards movement rather than load the injured knee. The aim is to load the tendon and muscle eccentrically which happens on the downward phase of the squat. When performing single leg eccentric squats both legs can be used during the upwards phase so the load is purely concentrated on the eccentric or downwards phase.
  • Eccentric squat exercises can be performed on a slant board or with a half foam roller to raise the heels. This has the effect of reducing the element that the calf muscles contribute to the exercise and increasing the load on the quadriceps muscles.
  • Begin with 3 x 10 repetitions each day and gradually increase to 3 x 15 repetitions before increasing the load or weight. Stick with a particular load level until they can be done very comfortably. If any pain is felt during, after or the next day then take a step back. Applying ice after can help with pain and inflammation.

Lunge

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  • The lunge exercise should begin as soon as pain allows and is a more demanding exercise which brings increasing power and speed into the exercise. It is more likely this exercise will be introduced around 3 months into the rehab program but each athlete will be different.
  • The athlete stands with one leg in front of the other and bends the front knee so the thigh is horizontal while the back knee goes towards the floor. This can be made easier by not going quite so low with the front leg. Begin with 1 set of 8 repetitions building to 3 sets of 15 reps. A weights bar across the shoulders can be used to increase the load.

Functional exercises for Patellar tendonitis

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  • This exercise is more suitable for the later stages of rehabilitation when the athlete is attempting to return to more specific sports training. The athlete steps back and then in one movement steps back onto the step.
  • This is a more explosive, plyometric exercise related to the specific demands of sport. It works the calf muscle eccentrically as well as the knee during the stepping back phase and plyometrically as they push off.
  • Alternate so both legs are exercised and do not do any more on the good leg than you can achieve with the injured leg.

References & further reading

This article has been written with reference to the bibliography.

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