My Story As A Basketball Player With Jumper’s Knee
I have been a basketball player for my entire life, but only since I have become a physical therapist have I felt a need to share my story about my recovery from patellar tendinopathy. This condition is more commonly called jumper’s knee. I have lived through the frustrations of this specific type of knee pain and know what it takes to make a full recovery. Most of my current clients are dealing with jumper’s knee, many of them playing sports like basketball, football, track, lacrosse, soccer, etc.
What is Jumper’s Knee?
Just for some background, here are the symptoms specific to jumper’s knee:
- Pain at the inferior pole of the patella (the red dot below)
- Pain that increases with load on the knee extensors when performing activities where the tendon has to store and release energy.
What that means is it hurts in a very specific spot when you jump, cut, or do quick movements. Going downstairs can be pretty rough too for most people who have experienced this.
Other types of knee pain may seem like jumper’s knee. This is why it is important to differentiate. What works for other knee pain may not work for jumper’s knee and vice versa.
I have lots of conversations with people who are trying to figure out the solution to their knee pain. For those with patellar tendinopathy, there are lots of similarities between their unique experiences and mine.
These are the main things I hear:
“I am exercising and my knees feel better until I go play basketball, or soccer, or some other sport… then it hurts like hell again. I am super frustrated.”
I rested and it feels better, but it flares up when I go to play again. I don’t know what to do about this.”
If this sounds like you then you are the exact person who should be reading this. It’s going to be a long story, but bear with me. Also If you want to know what to do about your Jumper’s Knee, just scroll down to the end and we can talk about what a recovery program would look like for you.
A Basketball Player With Jumper’s Knee
I grew up a basketball player. Like many of you, I was good at sports from a young age. I never had any catastrophic injuries, just some growing pains, ankle sprains, and a broken foot. As a kid up to the end of high school, I don’t think there was a season where I was not doing something that involved jumping, sprinting, cutting, or bounding. I loved hoops, and later in high school, I found out that triple jumping was a ton of fun.
Toward the end of my senior year, between playing basketball and doing track, I started to have some sharp pain in both of my knees. I was 18, I was in great shape, I wasn’t growing or anything like that, and I didn’t have bad knees (although it felt like it).
Rest didn’t seem to do much and I was taking lots of ibuprofen. In hindsight, that was a terrible idea. It should have been a clear sign that I needed to get some help after it did not go away after a few weeks… I let it drag on way too long like most people do. Waiting for the pain to go away was only making things worse for me.
Over the next 6 months, I just tried to power through the pain, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. That sharp jab in the front of my knee felt like a knife. I always felt it right when I was cutting, landing, or jumping, and then I knew I was done for the day at that point. After that, I would be walking around with two ice packs saran wrapped to my knees for the rest of the day. I was still playing basketball that summer too, but I was unreliable and could not help my team. It was not until I was playing in an open gym at the JUCO I was going to be attending, that I truly felt like I was broken.
I will never forget going up the sideline in that open gym. Imagine, trying to plant to go back between my legs, then BOOM. That sharp jab we are all too familiar with, but this time I could not even walk off the court. I just rolled the ball away, hopped over to the wall, and sat down.
I felt useless and it shook my confidence for that entire season. I could no longer trust my body to perform. I was struggling.
My Jumper’s Knee Was Not Going Away
Now let’s take a 30,000ft view here. This is where I currently am:
- I have had symptoms for 6 months that have been disrupting my ability to play
- I have just flared things up to the point where I can’t even walk.
- My confidence in my ability to play is completely gone. Each time I plant my foot I am just expecting it to hurt instead of thinking about making plays
- I have no idea what is going on or what I should do. I still decide that I need to just take the ibuprofen and rest more.
I did not seek any help that whole season and essentially wasted a year of eligibility. The only thing I did for myself was that I got some knee straps and wore them. They did not seem to do anything but get caught on my oversized shorts during games.
Remember, this is 2009/2010, the shorts were HUGE! I digress…
It was not until my freshman season ended that it was suggested I go see a physical therapist. I moved back home for the spring and got ready to start PT. I had no clue that this would be a huge turning point for me. I really did need someone highly knowledgeable to coordinate a recovery plan for me. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself as an athlete.
Recovery From Jumper’s Knee
I was not sure what to expect when starting physical therapy. My physical therapist told me I had patellar tendinitis (now we call this patellar tendinopathy, it’s not inflammatory…) and gave me the rundown of what was going to happen over the next few weeks. I was about to start hitting the weights like I had never done up to that point. This turned out to be full-on strength and conditioning.
I not only needed to get my knees feeling better, I needed to truly build up the strength in my entire body to handle the workloads of college basketball. *That second part probably applies to most people transitioning from high school to college ball.
One thing I learned about Jumper’s Knee back then, and have never forgotten, is this:
“Jumper’s Knee happens because people are underprepared for the workloads or weak relative to the activities they participate in. More often than not it’s both of these things if you are in sports like basketball. The work you put in to improve your physical strength and resilience as an athlete pays off, even at a young age. The weight room is generally not part of the culture in the sport of basketball, especially in high school. The weight room is important for your longevity as a player and you need it!”
*Steps off soapbox…
This is what I intuitively learned as a 19-year-old freshman going through physical therapy. It has been validated in my experience as a physical therapist as well.
I committed to PT for 12 weeks to get rid of patellar tendinopathy for good. My knee pain was pretty much gone after 6-8 weeks. I had put in a lot of sweat equity at that point and felt better, but I continued to put in more work for another month to make my body feel invincible and finish the process I started.
That extra month I committed to getting incredibly strong, fast, and athletic paid off massively. I was better than ever. It changed my habits toward training and taking care of my body. I was able to play another year of basketball, I was physically in the best shape of my playing career, and I could finally play again without that doubt in the back of my mind that my knees were going to let me down. My confidence skyrocketed and I was playing much better basketball too.
This was 11 years ago as I write this. I have barely had a trace of knee pain that resembles jumper’s knee since because I know how to manage it now and keep it away. I’ve just had to stick to the same principles that got me better. What I learned was invaluable and drove me to become a physical therapist to help other athletes with patellar tendinopathy.
Knowing what I know now, I can’t believe that I thought my knee pain would just vanish without taking any action. It took wasting a year of my eligibility to actually do something. Learn from my mistakes and take care of your body so you can keep playing. Jumper’s knee is completely treatable and you can be playing your sport pain-free.
Sidenote here – This picture on the right was taken just days before my 30th birthday. I am still benefitting from the things I learned during my recovery and I can’t imagine not being able to play basketball for the rest of my life. What I am trying to say is don’t just accept the fact that your knees hurt and not do anything about it. Sometimes it’s easy to forget what feeling strong and athletic is like again. It’s not out of your reach, you just have to take action.
The Jumpers Knee Process
If you are still reading this, I take it that you have gone through or are going through something similar like having knee pain stopping you from playing at your best. I will leave you with this last blurb:
The weight room is present in basketball, but it’s not ingrained in the culture. Most players don’t love the weight room because we aren’t always taught to spend time there. There are so many performance benefits being left on the table by not being on a strength program… but that is a whole other blog. Basketball players need to be doing some form of strength training off the court because when it comes to Jumper’s Knee, strength is protective against it. It’s also the key to your recovery.
Putting too much, too quickly, on a body that is unprepared is usually why your knee starts hurting. Therefore, after things start feeling better we need to prepare the body to handle all of the workloads you find in your sport, plus some more.
Imagine how great it would feel to leave patellar tendinopathy behind for good. You can and you will. You just have to commit to the process of recovery and becoming a more resilient and capable athlete.
If you have patellar tendinitis and don’t have a plan for recovery, fill out this contact form and we will talk about getting you back to 100%. We will discuss how to get you feeling better and teach you how to keep your knees healthy for the rest of your playing career.
-Dr. Drew Reid, PT DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy)