Since I play so damn much, and since I am no longer a spring chicken, I have to deal with aging joints, tendons and muscles. Hopefully with proper warmup, strength training and footwear I can avoid sudden injuries (like an Achilles tear) but there seems to be no way to totally avoid smaller problems.
So what’s on my plate of maladies today? Jumper knee.
Jumpers knee, technically knows as patellar tendonitis, is when the tendon gets inflammed due to overuse and you feel pain the the front of your knee. As the name suggests it happens in sports where jumping is involved like basketball, volleyball and badminton (though of course all the articles about it on regular sports sites never mentions badminton. Sigh…just more of the world against badminton.) My non-racket knee is the one that bothers me, which kinda makes sense. My right thigh (racket thigh) is built like a brick shithouse, but my non-dominant side is lagging.
While I’ve basically wished on a star to fix my tennis elbow (a surprisingly useful tactic), I know enough people who had knee surgery to know that knee pain isn’t that easy. There is no threshold like with tennis elbow, and if it’s not taken care of properly, it can lead to surgery or even an inability to walk properly. Yikes
So I did what any good player does and bought a new brace. This is really the quick and easy fix because once I use it there is no pain at all. The brace puts pressure on the weak part of the tendon and makes everything work much smoother.
No pain, no problem, right?
Well, not exactly. Wearing a brace is equal to taking an asprin. It might mask the pain for a bit, but you’re not actually solving the problem. So it’s up to body work to fix the problem.
A strain in the patella tendon means something along the chain isn’t working right and the knee has to pick up the slack. It could be a hip thing, it could be an ankle thing, it could be a lower back thing. Something is too tight, or not working right, and disrupting the chain. The big huge butt muscles should be taking the strain, not the weak little knee tendon, so somehow I’m not moving my body right. Too much strain is on the knee.
My first line of defense is foam rolling. To help the tendon smooth and stretch, I’ve been laying down on a foam roller and stretching away my upper thigh. I try to do this a few times a day, once before and once after badminton.
Then comes the stretching, which seems the best way to tackle this problem. My favorite stretch, and one I try to do several times, is the quadriceps stretch where you kick your leg back to touch your butt and you hold it there for awhile. I am also trying to do stretches to open my hips up more and doing some calf muscle stretches. Basically with my stretches I am not only trying to strengthen the knee, but stretching and activate any muscles that are supposed to be working harder. (For a few websites with good stretch suggestions check out here and here.)
Just like with tennis elbow I realize my off-court life plays a big part. Actually, I sometimes forget to put on my knee brace and only when I’m packing up to go home do I realize I didn’t have it. Playing doesn’t seem to hurt it a lot. It hurts more when I have been sitting down and long time, then stand up. Or, when I’m sitting in my favorite position: extreme cross-leg.
Every since I was a kid I have favored a really extreme cross-leg pose that is more “yoga” than “normal person sitting.” I’ve trained myself out of doing it in front of people since I got teased mercilessly in high school for it, but when I’m at home, with no conscious thought on my part, I find my legs twisted around me. These days, after awhile, my knee hurts.
So I’m trying to wean myself off it, and sit with my legs resting normally on the ground like an adult. It’s hard to change this habit though.
So we’ll see what happens as time goes on. Fingers crossed I caught it soon enough, and mild enough, that these small actions will fix it quickly. Of course the other course of treatment is resting and taking several weeks off, but if I can still walk, then I’m still playing so that’s not a viable option for me.
Have you dealt with jumper’s knee? Have any suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments below!