Don’t let patellar tendonitis keep you on the sidelines. With the proper treatment and the best patellar tendonitis brace, you can get back to doing the things you love.
Your knees work hard. They support your weight and promote mobility. But when your patellar tendon is overworked, as is the case with many athletes, it can become painful and inflamed.
Patellar tendonitis – also called patellar tendinitis or jumper’s knee – can take you out of the game and affect your everyday activities.
I’ll bring you up to speed on this knee injury- what causes it, how it can be treated and prevented. Then, I’ll suggest the best knee brace for patellar tendonitis with my top five picks.
What is Patellar Tendonitis?
You can get tendonitis in many of the tendons in your body. Tendonitis is an inflammation or overuse injury to the thick fibrous connective tissue called tendons. When this painful condition occurs in the front of your lower knees, it’s called patellar tendonitis. It affects the tendon connecting the patella (kneecap) to the tibia (shinbone).
You use your patellar tendons to extend your legs. They’re at work when you walk, run, kick and jump. But when they’re overworked, they can begin to tear.
These micro-tears accumulate over time, causing the knee pain and inflammation associated with tendonitis. The tendon can heal itself over time, but you have to treat it right while it does.
Usually the first sign of patellar tendonitis is pain centralized around the spot where your kneecap meets your shinbone. You’ll feel pain most when you bend and straighten your leg, or with kneeling, squatting or lunging.
The pain may be minimal at first, just a nagging feeling in your kneecap after a game or an intense workout. Over time, as the tendon continues to tear, the pain will become more intense.
Some other signs to be aware of are stiffness, weakness, and swelling in the knee joint. Tendonitis pain can make it difficult to participate in sports or exercise. As the condition worsens, it may become difficult to perform daily activities like climbing stairs or sitting in a chair.
If patellar tendonitis progresses to a full tendon tear, you may find it too painful or impossible to straighten or extend the knee. If you feel sharp, sudden pain in your knee or an ache that doesn’t go away, even when resting, schedule a visit with your doctor immediately.
Common Causes of Patellar Tendonitis
Patellar tendonitis is an overuse injury that happens gradually over time. It’s also called jumper’s knee because it commonly affects athletes who participate in sports with a lot of jumping on hard surfaces. This includes basketball, volleyball, track, and gymnastics.
Patellar tendonitis is also called runner’s knee because it makes up 5% of all running injuries. The constant bending, flexing, and impact can cause excessive stress on your tendons.
But you don’t have to be an athlete to experience patellar tendonitis. Any act that causes repetitive strain on your knees can lead to a patellar tear. Falling, impact, or landing wrong from a jump can also cause patellar tendon tears.
Other risk factors that can lead to patellar tendonitis include:
- Tight quadriceps or hamstring muscles
- Sudden changes in your exercise level or intensity
- Failing to warm up before activity
- Changing your athletic shoes
- A muscular imbalance in your legs
- Chronic illnesses like diabetes or an autoimmune disease
- Carrying excess body weight
Preventative Measures You Can Take
Like many sports injuries, you can avoid patellar tendonitis by observing practical exercise practices. Here are some things you can do to stop a patellar tendonitis in its tracks.
Warming Up, Cooling Down, and Stretching
Every athlete knows that warm-up and cool-down are essential for preventing muscle injuries. Find at least five minutes to get your body loose and limber both before and after working out or playing a sport.
Stretching warms up your muscles and makes them more elastic. A focused warm-up stretching routine gives them time to wake up. Tissues that are fully engaged and elastic are less likely to tear.
Exercises to Strengthen Your Muscles and Support Your Knee
Flexibility and strength go hand in hand to prevent muscle injuries. The leg muscles work together with your patellar tendons when you bend and extend your legs. If your leg muscles are well conditioned, it takes stress off of your tendons.
Practice exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh, hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh and hip stabilizer exercises in the posterior hip. These include exercises like leg lifts, bridges, quad presses, and squats. My roundup of exercises for knee pain and hip pain are an excellent starting point for strengthening leg and hip muscles.
Avoiding Jumping on Extremely Hard Surfaces
Frequent running or jumping on hard surfaces can be the culprit for many legs and joint injuries, including shin splints, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis. Why? Because extremely hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt are very dense. They don’t absorb shock.
When you jump on these hard surfaces, your body takes the brunt of the impact and puts more stress on your joints and tendons. Try working out or practicing on softer surfaces like wooden flooring or rubber.
Knee Support When Playing Sports
Wearing a runner’s knee brace or compression sleeve while playing sports can help control pain. It can prevent your knee from being pushed too far in sports like football, basketball, and volleyball. It can also provide heat and compression that keeps your muscles warm and flexible.
Knee support is a must while your patellar tendon is going through the healing process. You may find that continuing to wear a knee brace or sleeve after healing gives you more confidence and a little additional support.
How to Treat Patellar Tendonitis
A doctor or physical therapist can usually diagnose patellar tendonitis by doing a physical exam and asking you questions about your symptoms and exercise routine. For most patellar tendonitis cases, treatment can be done at home with the RICE method.
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Rest: Restrict movement as much as possible during the initial stages of healing. Avoid any activity that causes knee pain, like squatting or jumping.
- Ice: Cold therapy will reduce inflammation and help to control pain. Apply an ice pack or cold compress to the injured knee a few times a day for 15 minutes at a time.
- Compression: Compression is good for reducing pain and inflammation by promoting blood flow. Wearing a knee sleeve or patellar tendon strap with enough compression can help heal your injury more quickly.
- Elevation: When you have a chance to sit back, try to keep your leg elevated. This will improve blood flow around the knee and reduce swelling. It will also reduce pressure to ease your pain.
Your doctor may also recommend taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to control pain. These include ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
Exercises for knee pain can also help to relieve discomfort and promote healing. Just make sure
not push yourself too hard during recovery.
By sticking to the proper treatment, you can usually cure patellar tendonitis within six weeks. Depending on the severity of the tear, it may be as little as a few days of taking it easy.
Is Physical Therapy Necessary for Patellar Tendonitis?
Most physical therapists agree that therapeutic exercise is the secret to promoting knee pain relief and healing. Not only will it restore mobility and range of motion, but it can also help improve your strength and flexibility.
Physical therapy focuses on the current injury and the future of your muscles. While you heal, you will also be strengthening your leg muscles to prevent injuries down the road. When you start a physical therapy routine- or any exercise routine- start slow to avoid making your patellar tear worse.
PT for patellar tendonitis does not usually require visits to the therapist’s office. You can do these simple exercises and stretches at home with little or no equipment. A physical therapy routine should include quadriceps and hamstring stretches and exercises like leg raises, half squats, knee extensions, and wall slides.
Knee Braces vs. Knee Sleeves vs. Knee Straps
Knee support can serve a variety of purposes for both athletes and those not athletically inclined. It can prevent injuries, promote healing, provide extra support, and increase confidence. Studies have shown that braces can significantly improve pain and functionality for knee conditions.
But which is better for patellar tendonitis: a knee brace, a knee sleeve, or a knee strap? In short:
- Knee braces are best for knee stability and injury prevention.
- Knee sleeves are best for compression and pain relief.
- Knee straps are best for concentrated patellar support and tendon health.
Read on to determine which is best for you and find out how to pick the best of each.
Knee Braces for Patellar Tendonitis
I recommend knee braces for knee injuries that require more support, like an ACL injury or ligament instabilities. They provide the most all-over structure to take pressure off of your injured knee and restrict excessive movement.
A tendonitis brace knee support can also provide some protection while you heal. However, if you are looking for maximum protection for a sport like volleyball or skateboarding, you will also need knee pads.
Knee braces are best for athletes who are involved in contact sports. Your orthopedic surgeon may also recommend that you wear a knee brace for post-surgery rehab. Knee braces differ in support level from the maximum support hinged knee brace to the moderate support wraparound braces for mild knee pain.
What to Look for in a Knee Brace
Here’s what to look for in a knee brace for patellar tendon tear:
Make sure that the brace supports the entire knee and provides ample compression all the way around. If you are experiencing patellar tendonitis with patella maltracking, look for a brace with a c-shaped buttress that supports your knee cap.
Make sure that your knee brace doesn’t irritate or overheat your leg. Choose a brace made with comfortable, breathable materials like neoprene that wick away moisture and absorb sweat.
Look for a fully adjustable brace that wraps around your knee and has features you can easily control. The best knee brace for tendonitis will have adjustable straps above and below the kneecap, a double-sided buttress, removable side supports, and an open patella design.
A knee brace for torn patellar tendon should stay in place without cutting off circulation. It should not slip down when worn correctly.
Knee Sleeves for Patellar Tendonitis
Also called compression sleeves, these use compression to aid healing and post-injury support. They are proven to significantly reduce knee pain and improve knee function, making everyday activities more tolerable.
Patella knee compression sleeves provide a low level of support and protection, so they should not be depended on for safety during contact sports. However, they are more flexible than knee braces and provide the best range of movement.
What to Look for in a Knee Sleeve
If you’re looking for a brace that offers full mobility and is low-profile enough to wear under clothes, look for a knee compression sleeve with the following qualities:
A patella knee sleeve should stay in place when you move. One that is constantly slipping down or rolling is either the wrong fit or poor quality.
The perfect level of compression will keep your patella in place while providing the heat and circulation that relieves pain and promotes healing. Your knee sleeve should not be too loose, but it shouldn’t cut off your circulation either.
Open-patella sleeves and braces -ones that have a hole over the kneecap, unlike closed-patella ones- provide the best patellar support and pressure relief. They’re best for long periods of physical activity.
Patella Gel Pad
An integrated gel pad provides extra pressure around the kneecap much the same as a knee strap would. Side spring stabilizers are a bonus.
Look for a lightweight, elastic knit fabric that is fast-drying and absorbs sweat. A good patella knee sleeve will also have non-slip silicone strips to keep it in place when you move.
Patellar Knee Straps for Patellar Tendonitis
Knee straps, or patellar straps, are made specifically to support the patellar tendon. Worn just under the kneecap, they promote proper alignment, absorb shock, and take pressure off the patellar tendon.
Patella tendon straps are lightweight, easy to put on, and can be worn under clothes. They provide an unhindered range of motion and are best for athletes participating in running and jumping sports.
What to Look for in a Knee Strap
If you think a patellar strap is the right choice for you, here are some things to look for:
An adjustable elastic strap is best because you can modify it to meet your sizing and compression needs. The best ones will have an adjustable hook-and-loop closure system for easy adjustment.
A patella knee strap should provide targeted compression on the patellar tendon at your knee cap. If you feel the pressure on the side of your knee, the strap isn’t doing its job.
Patellar straps that have a segmented design will fit the curves of your knee better and are less likely to slip during activity.
Look for soft, breathable, latex-free fabrics like neoprene and nylon with smooth edges to avoid skin irritation during extended wear.