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The patella is the name doctors use for the kneecap. The kneecap is encased in a tendon that connects the quadriceps on the front of the leg with the tibia, or shinbone. A common injury to the patella and the tendon that covers it is patella tendonitis, sometimes called “jumper’s knee”. Patellar tendonitis is characterized by discomfort and pain in the knee around the kneecap from the overuse or misalignment of the knee joint. This injury is common especially in athletes who participate in sports, which require jumping, and running on a hard surface, such as basketball—but can also arise in athletes of all sports. Skiers commonly have this problem because of the pounding on the knee when they go downhill.
Patellar tendon injuries and treatment often diagnosed and administered by orthopaedic doctors generally don’t require surgery. Treatment of patellar tendonitis is a gradual process that involves the reduction of swelling and a slow increase of physical activity until the patient feels no pain in the knee joint. Swelling may not be completely eliminated through aspirin or acetaminophen and ice, but it can be controlled by these measures, and usually this is where treatment starts along with hamstring stretching and physical therapy.
Recovery from patellar tendonitis involves a long process involving steadily increasing the patient’s flexibility and range of motion. Once resting pain has been reduced and enough of the swelling has gone down, orthopaedic doctors allow a slow increase in activity, a strict stretching regimen, and strengthening exercises. Most tendonitis sufferers see an improvement in their condition after physical therapy for two to four weeks. On the rare occasion that a patient’s condition does not improve after that, surgery may be warranted.