vertical jump training

Jumpers Knee

Written by Jack Woodrup for VerticalJumping.com

Just about every athlete who has trained and competed for any length of time will have experienced the curse of being injured. For jumping athletes one of the most common complaints is Jumpers Knee. In this article I will examine what exactly Jumpers Knee is and what you can do to prevent and treat it.

What Is Jumpers Knee?

Jumpers knee is the inflammation of the patellar tendon which is situated just below the front of the knee cap, and is the more common name for patellar tendinitis. This tendon is extremely strong and allows the quadriceps muscle group to straighten knees which for jumping helps propels the athlete off the ground as well as assisting to stabilize their landing.

As you can imagine this tendon comes under a lot of stress, particularly in those athletes who do a lot of jumping type activities. This stress on the tendon can be further exasperated if you have poor VMO strength and function, or if your calves are weak. When these areas are lacking they force the tendon to do that much extra work.

Some of the most common causes of Jumpers Knee are sudden increases in the frequency and/or intensity of training, too much training or playing on hard surfaces (streetball, jumping on concrete), and poor base strength of the supporting muscles, especially the quads.

Dwayne Wade

Figure 1: Too much of this.......

Dwayne Wade

Figure 2: Can unfortunately lead too this.

What Are The Symptoms?

The most common symptom of Jumpers Knee is the obvious pain just below the knee cap. There are several other signs to look for including aches, pains and stiffness after training, pain when you contract your quadriceps, and also the actual tendon itself can appear swollen.

How To Prevent It

They say that prevention is better than cure and looking after for your knees is no exception. Some of the best things you can do to ensure you don’t inflame the tendon in the first place include:

1. Warm Up Properly. This should go without saying but a proper warm up not only primes your muscles and joints for optimal performance, but it also goes a long way to preventing injuries. Anyone not doing a thorough warm up of all their joints and muscles before they play or train is seriously an idiot.

2. Strengthen the Leg Muscles. In nearly every article on this site you will find mention of the importance of strengthening the key jumping muscles. Strong muscles help reduce the likelihood of injury by helping to stabilize and support the joints. Good exercises for Jumpers Knee (and jumping in general) are the lunge variations as they really target the VMO and build stability of the joint.

3. Adequate Recovery. Ensuring that you don’t train too frequently can go a long way to avoiding Jumpers Knee. Plenty of rest between sessions gives your muscles and CNS plenty of time to fully recover so that when you train or play again they are acting at maximum capacity to do their share of the work.

4. Stretching and Mobility Work. Regular stretching and foam rolling sessions help relax and lengthen the muscles and tendons and enables the body to function optimally. Having a reduced range of motion in some of the muscle groups used for jumping can impair movement efficiency placing undue stress on the patellar tendon.

5. Sleep. Getting plenty of sleep is one of the most anti-inflammatory things you can do. Aside from the fact that whilst you are sleeping your joints are not moving much, you also have the hormonal responses of reduced cortisol and increased GH helping to aid your recovery process.

Sleep

Figure 3: Go to bed earlier. It can really make a big difference.

6. Train on Appropriate Surfaces. Training and playing on hard surfaces for too long is a sure fire way to aggravate and inflame the knee joint and tendons. Where possible play on proper courts and train on slightly softer surfaces such as grass or rubber running tracks.


How To Treat Jumpers Knee

If you already have Jumpers Knee your next course of action will depend greatly on the severity of the condition.

In the early stages of Jumpers Knee where the pain is pretty minor you can often treat the problem by simply reducing your workload, icing the knee after sessions, performing low impact eccentric strength work, and replacing some of your more intense jumping activities with lower impact modalities such as pool plyometrics.

You may also want to try wearing a knee strap (see below) to help support the tendon. Another option that can help manage the pain is the application of some form of anti-inflammatory cream to the affected area.

patellar knee strap
Figure 4: Patellar Tendon Support Strap.

If your problems are worse than this such as chronic or debilitating pain then you might need to take more drastic measures such as completely stopping all training that aggravates it, or worse, surgery. Both these options are really bad case scenarios so if you do find your knees getting sore take the preventative actions early, don’t try and train through it.

As a side note I have occasionally had mild bouts of knee tendonitis and found that I could still train my vertical by replacing my regular jumping and weighted work with low impact training methods such as kettlebell swings, EMS (Electronic Muscle Stimulation), and various band and weighted isometrics.

Whenever I have had to reduce the volume and intensity of my training due to the tendonitis I have often come back jumping higher. The reason for this is that pain is one of the ways your body tells you that it needs a break from all the training you have been doing.

Once you do slow down not only does your knee stop hurting, but the rest freshens you up and provides enough time for the positive adaptations to occur from all the training you did that made your knee flare up in the first place.

Now I am not in any way shape or form suggesting that you train until you injure yourself. I am just trying to highlight how beneficial for not just injury prevention, but also for performance improvement, the occasional break from training can be.

Conclusion

They wouldn’t call patellar tendon pain Jumpers knee if it wasn’t a fairly common complaint for athletes who do a lot of jumping. Most likely this is you. If you are smart and you take the right steps beforehand, or at worst, as soon as it appears, you can easily minimize the severity and duration of your suffering.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information in this article is not intended to be used as a diagnosis. If you do have an injury do the right thing and go and see a doctor who can examine you and take into account your full history and any other symptoms.

Related Articles

Injury Prevention - No one likes getting hurt. By taking a few precautionary steps you can reduce your chances of getting injured significantly.

Low Impact Training - Jumping is hard work on your body but it doesn't have to be. Follow a few of these simple low impact strategies and give your joints a break without sacrificing your gains.

Pool Plyometrics - Pool plyometrics is a fun way to train that is not only easy on the joints, but also can provide some nice gains.

Sand Training - Sand training is another fun way to develop your vertical jump without the jarring impact of traditional plyometrics.



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