Exercises for Patellar Tendonitis

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Patellar tendinitis, also referred to as jumper’s knee, is a condition that causes pain in the tendon located beneath the knee cap (patella). This issue, which is primarily seen in individuals who participate in jumping activities, can cause significant soreness and can hamper your ability to exercise, play sports, or even perform your daily activities.

This article will discuss exercises that may help reduce symptoms of this condition, and in some cases can resolve it altogether.

Hiker holding sprained knee

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Causes of Patellar Tendonitis

While the exact causes of patellar tendonitis are unknown, degeneration in the patellar tendon is thought to play a role. It is important to note, however, that this condition can occur even in people with healthy tendons if too much strain is placed on them during a demanding activity.

Several types of individuals are at a greater risk of developing this pathology, including:

  • Men
  • Jumping athletes
  • People with a larger waist circumference
  • Those with less-flexible hamstrings, quads, or calves
  • Individuals with a recent increase in training volume or frequency

Symptoms of Patellar Tendonitis

Patellar tendonitis commonly comes on gradually and first presents as soreness in the area just beneath the knee cap. Early on, the pain from this condition can be relieved or even resolved by a light warm-up.

As the symptoms progress, however, the pain may become sharper and can persist for several days after exercise. Activities like sitting for a prolonged period of time, squatting, or going up the stairs can also become quite irritating. Ultimately, this issue can make exercising or playing sports nearly impossible.

Physical Therapy for Patellar Tendonitis

Fortunately, in many cases, patellar tendonitis can be effectively treated with physical therapy. Using a few simple exercise techniques, rehab can help alleviate your symptoms and return you to your prior activities. Some of the exercises recommended to treat the condition may include the following.

Start With Isometrics

An isometric exercise involves contracting a muscle without allowing it to elongate or shorten. This beginner technique helps to introduce load to the patellar tendon, while immediately alleviating some of the pain you are experiencing.

To properly perform a quad isometric:

  1. Sit in a chair and fasten a belt around the hind chair leg and the ankle of your affected leg. Your affected knee should be bent to approximately 60 degrees.
  2. Kick against the belt with about 70 percent of your maximal effort. The belt should be fastened tight enough so that you are unable to actually move or extend your leg.
  3. Hold the contraction for 45 seconds before relaxing for one minute.

For best results, complete five repetitions of this exercise each day, continuing daily until symptoms begin to improve.

Add in Knee Extension

Once the isometric exercise begins to alleviate your symptoms, you can start to add a knee extension exercise to help increase your quad strength and get your patellar tendon accustomed to heavier amounts of load.

To try this technique:

  1. Sit in a chair with your leg dangling in the air and a thick resistance band secured around your ankles. A leg extension machine can also be used for this exercise.
  2. Over the course of about three seconds, gradually extend the affected leg against the resistance.
  3. Once the knee is straight, allow it to slowly bend over an additional four seconds.
  4. Complete four sets of eight repetitions, allowing 15 seconds of rest in between sets. This should be done four times weekly.

Try Eccentrics

Eccentric exercises help strengthen a muscle by making it slowly elongate as it performs a challenging task. While this type of technique may temporarily cause some soreness (which is not unusual when you begin the exercise), it has been shown to ultimately alleviate the symptoms of patellar tendonitis.

To do a single leg eccentric squat at home:

  1. Stand on a surface that has a mild to moderate decline, like a downward-sloping driveway. A home slant board can also be used.
  2. Lift your good leg in the air so that you are standing solely on the affected leg.
  3. Slowly squat down until your painful knee bends to approximately 90 degrees. As you do this, make sure to sit your butt backward and keep your painful knee from traveling over your toes.
  4. When you are at the lowest point of the squat, put your unaffected foot down and return to standing with both legs.
  5. Complete three sets of 10 repetitions of this technique each day.

Reintroduce Explosive Movements

As the pain in your tendon subsides and you build strength in your quads, it is important to re-introduce jumping-related movements. Getting your knee used to these high-demand activities will help ensure a successful return to exercise and sports. One effective way to do this is a jump squat.

To complete this plyometric exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. With your arms hanging by your sides, bend both knees and get into a deep squat.
  3. Jump upwards as high as you can while you simultaneously swing your arms behind you.
  4. Land softly in a squat without allowing your knees to buckle inwards, and quickly repeat the jumping movement.
  5. Complete three sets of 10 repetitions. Try to do this exercise two to three times weekly.

A Word from Verywell

While patellar tendonitis can be extremely painful and potentially debilitating, the condition is usually well managed with conservative treatment. With the help of some easy-to-perform exercises, you can condition your knee to handle the demands of your particular sport or activity.

If you think you are experiencing this tendon issue, be sure to speak to your physician about whether physical therapy is right for you.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rudavsky A, Cook J. Physiotherapy management of patellar tendinopathy (jumper’s knee)J Physiother. 2014;60(3):122-129. doi:10.1016/j.jphys.2014.06.022 

  2. Van Ark M, Cook JL,Docking SI, et al. Do isometric and isotonic exercise programs reduce pain in athletes with patellar tendinopathy in-season? A randomised clinical trialJ Sci Med Sport. 2016;19(9):702-706. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2015.11.006

  3. Breda SJ, Oei EHG, Zwerver J, et al. Effectiveness of progressive tendon-loading exercise therapy in patients with patellar tendinopathy: a randomized clinical trialBr J Sports Med. 2021;55(9):501-509. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2020-103403