Why Do My Knees Hurt? Jumper’s Knee Explained

Knee Pain

March Madness has come to it’s conclusion and it was a great tournament this year. It’s always amazing to see how these players bodies can withstand months of practice and intense games, while my knees hurt after playing a little one-on-one with my husband and kids. There’s an explanation behind it and, the good news, is that the pain can be relieved.

“Jumpers knee” is the activity specific name given for patellar tendonopathy. Symptoms of jumpers knee often occurs in those involved in jumping activities such as basketball or volleyball, or those who symptoms are reproduced by jumping.

The patellar tendon is at high risk for inflammation/breakdown due to high repetitions and overuse activities. Anterior knee pain can be caused by imbalances in forces that act across the front of the knee, and overloading of the tissues of the knee during movements. Often, patients have acute focal tenderness below their kneecap. In other cases, only activity reproduces their pain. Either way, it’s important to educate patients on why their knees are hurting and to develop a program specific to their needs and goals.

Treatment for jumper’s knee is multifaceted, including evaluation of jumping and landing mechanics, addressing flexibility issues, changing the landing surface or footwear, gradually loading the tendon/load management, and soft-tissue mobilization (Astym/IASTM). During acute flare ups a rest period is the start to rehabilitation. This includes avoidance of aggravating factors, however continuing to address other areas of deficits, often hip and core stability. Some modalities can be helpful, but I’ve found that hands-on treatment like Astym can be very helpful in kick-starting the healing process.

Astym (augmented soft tissue mobilization) is a proven technique for the treatment of patellar tendonitis. Astym involves the use of three tools to treat soft tissue restrictions through a series of sequenced strokes. The tools glide parallel to tissue fibers, to catch irregular fibroses. Astym treatment stimulates a healing process within the treated structure and allows progressive healing to take place by allowing increased blood flow and creating a mild inflammatory response to further promote healing. While receiving Astym treatment, your physical therapist will also continue to address strength deficits, flexibility restrictions, and any dysfunctional movements patterns leading to increased forces at the knee with the painful activity, in this case, jumping. (1)

Regardless of the onset, whether from long hours spent on the court or a recent flare-up from a pick-up game, rest assured that there are non-invasive treatments available that can help you manage your symptoms, and reduce your risk of re-aggravation through a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

Reference: (1) McCrea, E. & George, S. (2010). Outcomes following augmented soft tissue mobilization for patients with knee pain: a case series. Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Practice, 22 (2), 69-74.

About the Author: Farren Holman, PT, DPT, Astym Cert. is a Doctoral graduate from Washington University in St. Louis in 2011. An athlete herself, she takes great pride in helping others return to the things they love. In fact, she finds the most rewarding aspect of the job is getting her patients back to the activities they enjoy the most, even if that activity is being able to play with grandchildren. She chose physical therapy as a way to help others stay active by incorporating movement into all of her treatment plans, including Astym treatment which promotes healing with motion. In her free time she loves to travel.