It’s spring and your running career, dormant all the winter, has been kicked back into high gear as you prepare for your next half marathon, marathon, or even ultra marathon (100+ miles in one bout). You’re running without a care, feeling great, when all of the sudden…your knee starts to hurt. “I knew it was true, running really is bad for your knees,” you think. But you think back to this article and remember that running isn’t inherently bad for your knees, but, because there is pain you realize this is probably something you should have checked out.
As one of the most complicated and largest joints in the body, the knee joint can be quite the pain when trying to run, jump, and be a more active human. There are a number of ligaments, muscles, and tendons that can contribute to knee pain. Here, we’re focusing specifically on the patellar tendon.
The patellar tendon is what connects your quad muscles (front of the thigh) to your shin bone (tibia). One of the most common conditions affecting the patellar tendon is called patellar tendonitis, also referred to as jumper’s knee. This condition is seen frequently in sports that require a lot of jumping including volleyball and basketball. This is also a common sideliner in runners. People with this condition generally feel pain in the area between the kneecap and shin bone. With patellar tendonitis, micro tears actually develop in the tendon due to muscle imbalances, poor movement patterns, poor muscle activation, improper biomechanics, and overuse.
This is actually something that occurs well before the development of pain from patellar tendonitis. Before pain, you may feel like you have really tight muscles in your legs, specifically the quadriceps muscle group (the group of muscles on the front of the thigh). This tightness causes excess tension on the patellar tendon, which eventually leads to pain and the development of patellar tendonitis. But why is this tightness occurring in the first place? One of the most common reasons for this is due to poor muscle activation patterns while running, jumping, and squatting. These poor patterns cause excess stress to be placed on the patellar tendon every single time you perform and physical activity, leading to micro tearing and pain.
Poor Muscle Activation
When you run, there are a number of muscles that need to be activated to help stabilize the body. When looking at knee stability, muscles in not only the knee, but also the hip must be well activated to help stabilize the body and allow for pain-free running. Think of pulling a car connected to a rope. Now, because you’re strong you can probably pull the car by yourself. But this puts a ton of stress on your body and you become tired, weak, and probably hungry. However, if you had a few friends pulling with you, it’d no problem at all. This is how your muscles work, in large groups. But when you have one or more muscles not pulling their own, you put stress on the surrounding muscles causing them to overwork and become strained or worse. This is commonly seen in patellar tendonitis. Poor muscle activation is causing the quadriceps to overwork and put excessive stress on the patellar tendon.
A number of factors can contribute to improper biomechanics. These include things like previous injury, muscle activation patterns, muscle imbalances, and the poor training techniques. One of the most common reasons for poor biomechanics is prior injury. This is why it’s so important to have your injuries taken care of sooner rather than later. The brain is very good at remembering an injury and, as a result, will subconsciously guard the area of injury, even when the pain is gone.
So what can you do to help with your patellar tendonitis? Besides seeing one of the great docs at Inertia Health Center, here are a few home treatments to try:
- Declining squats at 25% depth
- With this, you want to make sure you have the heel elevated a bit to help. You can do this by placing a small towel, folded, under the heel. You’ll lower down slowly on the one foot until you’ve reached about 25% of your max squat depth. Then, using the good leg, bring yourself back to the to. Repeat for about 15 reps of 5 sets.
- Regain flexibility in the quadriceps and hamstrings.
- A good stretching routine can help immensely with this. Consistency is key.
- Listen to your body
If you continue to get worse or feel you haven’t made any progress with your home treatment routine, that is a great sign to get serious and have this checked out. Caught early, this can be a relatively simple fix. However, if you wait too long, you may be sidelined longer than you like. The doctors at Inertia Health Center are well-versed in this condition and are happy to answer any questions you have regarding your knee pain or other muscle and joint pains. So don’t wait! And remember – pain is often one of the last indicators that something is wrong in your knee, so don’t ignore it!