What is patellar tendon?
We are able to flex and bend our knees, thanks to the action of the patella, or the knee cap. The patella is a triangular bone that is connected to the thigh bone or the femur. The main function of the kneecap is to help in extending the knee to 180 degrees and bend it backwards. The patella also protects the knee from injury related trauma.
The patellar tendon is what links the knee cap to shin bone also called tibia. The patellar tendon is located below the knee cap and is part of the chain of muscles, ligaments and bones that help in movement of the knee joint. All of the muscles and joints in the entire leg, including the patellar tendon and the patella, work in synergy to help in bending and extending the knee.
What causes patellar tendinitis?
The knee is the largest joint in the body, and can support 1.5 times our body weight. When we climb stairs or squat, the knee has to bear 4 to 8 times our body weight. Repetitive jumping or landing also places a lot of stress on the knee joint.
The patellar tendon absorbs most of the shock that comes from such activities. Although the tendon is very strong and can withstand huge amounts of pressure, over time, repeated stress can cause injuries in the patellar tendon.
Most commonly seen in runners, patellar tendinitis refers to injury or damage to the patellar tendon, causing small tears or inflammation in the knee. Overuse of the knee joints in sports like long distance running, basketball, soccer, volleyball and high or long jump are the most common causes of patellar tendinitis.
Also called “jumper’s knee”, patellar tendinitis can be caused by other medical conditions such as:
– Obesity: Excess body weight can put more pressure on the knee joints.
– Osteoarthritis: With age, the bones lose calcium and become brittle and fragile, resulting in weakened tendon and bones in the knee.
– Rheumatoid arthritis: An autoimmune condition that can affect all the joints in the body
– Infections: Certain bacteria or fungus can result in septic knee or infectious arthritis and cause inflammation of the joints
– History of prior surgery to the knee
– Systemic lupus erythmatosus (SLE)
– Diabetes mellitus
– Metabolic diseases
– Chronic renal failure
Symptoms of patellar tendinitis
Pain: The first symptom is usually pain on the knee cap, along the patellar tendon. The pain may be initially only experienced during or just after the physical activity, but get worse over time if not treated.
Stiffness of the knee: Usually the stiffness is noticed in the morning upon waking. It may be difficult to bend or straighten the knee.
Swelling of the knee
The above symptoms are gradual in onset, and can get to a point where carrying out day to day activities may become impossible if not treated.
Types of patellar tendon support
Patellar tendon strap: The knee straps are worn around the patellar tendon, using a locking strap. The compression foam used in the buttress pad applies gentle pressure on the point of pain to help relieve the symptoms. This is the most common type used for supporting patellar tendon.
Dual strap: The dual strap works by applying pressure both to the quad muscles and the patellar tendon. The quad muscles in the thigh are the ones that support the knee in flexing and bending. Applying pressure on the quad helps stabilize the knee, and provides pain relief.
Lift knee sleeve: In this type of support, an additional elastic strap over the buttress pad is included. The strap helps lift the patella and relieves pressure on the joint. The elastic strap distributes the pressure over the patellar tendon uniformly, which also reduces the stress on the tendon. The knee sleeve promotes blood circulation and provides warmth, both of which are recommended for pain alleviation. The degree of pressure applied by the strap can be modified by adjusting the length of the strap.
Knee brace: Knee braces for patellar tendon offer support to the patella and knee joint and help in stabilizing the joints. They are designed to distribute pressure over the quad and patellar tendon. Having the similar design as in dual straps, they use more rigid materials such as silicone which maintains comfortability as well. Regular neoprene or knit knee sleeves can be used together with the knee brace to provide warmth for pain relief.
How to choose the right support?
There are various factors to consider when you want to buy a support. The following may be some of the points that help you choose the right patellar tendon support.
Symptoms: Evaluating your knee and the type of support you need is the first step. If you only have concerns over the patellar tendon, you would consider the simple patellar tendon strap. If you need extra support and want more stability, dual straps and knee braces could be a better choice. If you are experiencing pain, you might want to consider knee sleeves that help retain body heat and relieve the pain.
Convenience: Slip on braces may be more convenient to wear and remove if you are looking for a faster way to wear the support. Straps and locks require additional adjustments but may offer more stability.
Size: All supports come in various sizes that can fit into your requirements.
Type of activity or sport: For pro athletes and those recovering from surgery, a hinged support may offer the best protection. For mild to moderate pain, compression knee braces or sleeves may be ideal as they redistribute the pressure evenly.
To avoid serious injuries to the largest joint in the body– the knee– not ignoring the initial symptoms of pain or stiffness is important. Activities like climbing, running uphill or downhill, or those that involve lots of jumping place the maximum amount of strain on your knees. Avoiding or minimizing such when you experience initial symptoms of patellar tendinitis is critical to protecting the tendon from rupture.
Quad, hamstring and calf strengthening exercises will also go a long way in stabilizing the entire support system of the knee joint.