As popularized in the children’s song, “the knee bone’s connected to the, shin bone” – but, just how this connection is made is the source of a very common overuse injury known as knee tendonitis, patellar tendonitis or simply, ‘jumper’s knee.” Patellar tendon is responsible for the muscle function that allows for movements like kicking a ball or jumping up and down. Knee tendonitis is characterized by very tiny tears in this tendon that may be very fine and small, or much larger and more damaging. Although a focal point for many basketball injuries or those affecting athletes like volleyball players, just about everyone can experience this type of tendon injury through a variety of activities including many types of exercise.
Like many overuse and sports related injuries, knee tendonitis is a complicated injury. Not all people with jumper’s knee will experience the same symptoms, treatment successes and failures and recovery time. This is because severity plays a big role in how much pain and discomfort is encountered and how long the injury takes to heal. The overall physical state of the person with the injury can play a part too, and those that are less physically active may experience more discomfort and longer healing times. Additionally, how the injury is treated at onset is important as well. If the injury is not cared for properly, further damage can keep compounding, which can lead to the need for more drastic treatments up to and including surgery.
The problem with knee tendonitis is that it may not always be clear just how severe the injury is or if it is still at risk of reinjury. For many, just deciding whether or not to use a brace or strap can be confusing. Most of the time, injuries to the patellar tendon are easily treated at home with ice and rest. However, if after a period of time has passed and discomfort hasn’t improved, many people turn to braces and straps to help relieve pain and provide support. These devices also can help reduce the risk of furthering injuring the affected area. Braces and straps may be appropriate if home care including the use of over the counter pain relievers, interval icing and elevation and rest have been insufficient.
ARE BRACES BENEFICIAL?
Unfortunately, the use of braces and straps may do little to actually heal the damage to the tendon although they do have their benefits in people with knee tendonitis, because they don’t address the underlying cause of the problem. Therefore braces and straps tend to be temporarily beneficial at best in the case of these types of injuries and further medical care and advice may be necessary if the injury does not begin to improve. Additionally, while braces and straps can provide temporary relief and make physical activity more comfortable, they may also prevent people with injuries from seeking additional care and treatment which can increase the risk of reinjury. Further treatment for knee tendonitis when home care, rest, strengthening and bracing have been unsuccessful may include injections of corticosteroids (beware potential long term side-effects!), plasma injections and in some cases, surgery.
ALTERNATIVE THAT HEALS?
For people relying on straps and braces that are looking for other types of knee pain treatment, there is one option that is often overlooked that might be able to prevent the necessity for further invasive treatments in some individuals. This type of treatment has proven beneficial in a wide variety of conditions that cause muscle and joint pain like arthritis, as well as in injuries related to physical activity which has prompted a surge in popularity with athletes. Whole body cryotherapy, a procedure in which supercooled gases are pumped into a controlled chamber to dramatically reduce external body temperature, is thought to prompt a wide range of healing responses within the body. With the head excepted, exposing the body to this rapid cooling has shown promising results in everything from injury healing to chronic pain management. There are numerous ways in which cryotherapy results are thought to be achieved, and these benefits may explain why the application could be useful in individuals experiencing knee tendonitis where home care has proven unsuccessful.
When the body is cooled rapidly externally in a cryosauna or cryochamber, physiological responses to the stimuli include many healing benefits. A release of chemicals that help relieve pain can provide instant relief, and endorphins produced as a result can produce feelings of energy and well-being. Underneath these initial effects however, damage repairing responses may also be able to help speed injury repair throughout the body. It’s this combination of effects that have made the technology potentially useful in conditions like osteoarthritis of the knee or patellofemoral pain syndrome.
Knee tendonitis is a common condition that affects many people, even those who aren’t everyday athletes. It’s often easily treated at home, but can be serious or long lasting. Braces and straps can be useful to reduce leg muscle pain, provide support and prevent reinjury. But, when home care has failed, they should be considered only a support device or a temporary aid. Further treatment may be required in more advanced cases of knee tendonitis including various medical techniques such as injected medicines or even surgery or alternative treatments like whole body cryotherapy (offered by Cryotherapy Health And Wellness Inc. in Toronto) depending on the individual and the extent of the damage.