Patellar Tendonitis from Running
For such a simple and straightforward sport, running sure comes with a lot of risks. There’s plantar fasciitis, shin splints, IT band syndrome and countless others. And when you think about what really goes on when we run, it’s no wonder so much can go wrong. Running puts a lot of pressure and expectations on our bodies! With every step we take, our body feels the impact from the toes through the feet, ankles, knees, legs and hips. As long as we train gradually and take note of proper technique we can, for the most part, protect our bodies. Still, sometimes developing an injury like patellar tendonitis from running just feels like part of the bargain.
Patellar tendonitis has been said to make up around 5% of running injuries. By most standards, it’s not the worst injury a runner can get. It’s not the most inhibiting injury of them all. It shouldn’t require surgery and usually won’t even require taking much time off. Patellar tendonitis from running is usually quite manageable, and particularly if you address it right away. Because there’s one thing that patellar tendonitis and most other athletic injuries have in common and that is that it will worsen remarkably if it goes untreated.
What is Patellar Tendonitis?
Patellar tendonitis is a condition where the patellar tendon has been damaged in some way or to some degree. The patellar tendon is a short and thick tendon that connects the patella (or kneecap) to the top of the tibia (or shin bone). This tendon is responsible for helping the leg muscles to extend the knee. It grants greater mechanics to the knee joint, thus it’s used constantly in running and jumping.
When one develops patellar tendonitis from running, it first starts as an inflammation of the tendon. Tendons can easily become inflamed from overuse. However, if the condition goes untreated or unnoticed the tendon will become more damaged. This is why it’s important to take care of your patellar tendonitis from running immediately, or else your patellar tendon will become weaker and tear more easily in the future.
Unlike most running injuries, patellar tendonitis is actually more common in men than in women. But, the pain is the same regardless of the gender. Those with patellar tendonitis from running may notice it as a sharp pain below the kneecap. In other words, you will probably feel the majority of the pain in the tendon itself. If you have pain on the sides or at the top of the kneecap, it is probably not patellar tendonitis, but rather patellofemoral pain syndrome which is a whole different story.
Patellar tendonitis may also feel like a stiffness in the lower knee. This condition tends to be particularly painful or stiff when running downhill or down stairs because of the greater impact on the tendon. However, mild patellar tendonitis tends to go away or feel better once the runner has warmed up.
Runners have a tendency to push themselves. They’re a determined bunch who are always looking for the next race or the newest route to take. Many runners like to keep it interesting by switching up their terrain, running up or down hill or increasing their mileage. However, whenever a runner decides to switch up his or her routine, he or she needs to do it strategically. Almost all of the most common injuries from running develop gradually as a result of too much, too soon. That could be too many miles, too much incline or too much speed. When we push our bodies too much, too soon, the muscles and bones don’t have time to adjust.
Oftentimes, injuries to tendons are the result of weak muscles or bones. Tendons are meant to help support muscle movement. However, if a muscle is too weak, a tendon ends up taking over some ot the responsibility which can lead to injury. The same is true not only if the muscles are weak, but also if the muscles are tight. For patellar tendonitis, it’s usually poor hamstring or poor quadriceps flexibility that leads to excess tension on the knee joint.
However, even those with strong and flexible leg muscles can still develop patellar tendonitis from running. Patellar tendonitis can develop just because of repetitive force to the patellar tendon. As mentioned before, running farther and/or faster than what the body is ready for can put stress on all parts of the body, including the patellar tendon. Overuse and over stress without time to recover will cause the tendon to weaken. Then, the patellar tendon and its surrounding structure may become damaged and continue to degrade from the chronic stress.
Take it Easy
Lots of runners are tempted to run through knee pain, especially when it lets up after one is warmed up. While sometimes this is ok, pushing through pain can often cause further injury. When any athlete performs despite pain, the pain can cause them to move differently which in turn may put awkward or unusual stress on a particular bone, muscle or tendon. Patellar tedonitis from running can sometimes be caused because of this.
If you’re experiencing mild patellar tendonitis from running, you can begin treating it with the RICE method. Ice your knee for twenty minutes after each run to cut down on inflammation. Or, ice it for twenty minutes a couple of times a day.
If muscle tightness is an issue for you, get in the habit of stretching your hamstrings and quadriceps daily. You can also help loosen your leg muscles up by using self-massage tools like the Rolflex PRO. Look into getting new shoes, as well. If your running shoes have a significant heel-to-toe drip, they may be putting additional stress on your patellar tendon. Visit a professional at a runner’s shoe store who can help you pick out shoes that will fit your specific needs.
As long as you catch patellar tendonitis early on, it’s one of the most treatable and most mild injuries from running you can get. So consider yourself lucky, and use this as an opportunity to analyze your technique and routine. With this injury experience under your belt, hopefully you’ll never have to manage anything worse!