What is patellar tendonitis?

Tendons are tough bands of connective tissue that connect muscle to bone. You have a number of tendons in your knee and these help in maintaining the structure, mobility and strength of the knee joint. One of these tendons is the patellar tendon, and it connects the kneecap (patella) to the muscles of your thigh.

Should a tendon become inflamed, it is known as tendonitis, and tendonitis in the patellar tendon is therefore referred to as patellar tendonitis. Sometimes it is also known as ‘jumper’s knee’, a reference to it often being seen in athletes who are active in sports that require frequent jumping.

Symptoms of patellar tendonitis include:

  • Pain in the tendon, worse when moving,
  • Being able to feel a lump on the tendon,
  • A grating or crackling feeling when bending and/or straightening the knee,
  • Swelling at the front of the knee.

 How is patellar tendonitis diagnosed?

Knee pain is a common complaint and tendonitis is only one of a number of possible causes. For this reason, a knee specialist (usually an orthopaedic surgeon) will usually request one of a number of diagnostic tests to help confirm a diagnosis of patellar tendonitis. Tests requested may include X-rays, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

X-rays help to rule out any other problems with the bones of the knee, while ultrasound and MRI scans can help to show tears or other abnormal changes in the inflamed patellar tendon.  

In many cases, painkillers, rest and suitable exercises to strengthen the knee and the muscles surrounding it can help to promote healing and recovery from patellar tendonitis. However, some patients may need surgery to adequately treat the condition. This surgery is known as arthroscopic decompression of patellar tendonitis.

Arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery, and arthroscopic decompression of patellar tendonitis refers to the keyhole surgery used to treat patellar tendonitis.

Arthroscopic decompression of patellar tendonitis is normally carried out under general anaesthetic, meaning you will not be conscious during the surgery. An anaesthetist will talk with you about the anaesthetic they will be using for the procedure.

Once you have been given the general anaesthetic, the skin around your knee will be thoroughly cleaned using an antibacterial fluid, to reduce the risk of infection. The surgeon will make two small incisions, one either side of your knee, and insert a thin metal tube (known as an arthroscope) through the cuts into the knee joint. The arthroscope contains a light source and a camera or lens at one end, allowing the surgeon to see the inside of the joint clearly. 

Using the arthroscope, the surgeon will examine the patellar tendon and the entire knee joint. Small surgical instruments will be used to precisely treat those areas of the joint that have been most affected by the patellar tendonitis.

Once the decompression has been successfully carried out, the surgeon will remove the arthroscope from the knee joint and close any cuts made during the surgery using stitches or special surgical tape. Your knee will then be covered with a sterile dressing to ensure it remains free of infection.

Following your surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room, where out theatre staff will monitor you carefully while you wake up from the anaesthetic. Once you have fully woken up and the theatre recovery room staff are happy with your blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels, you will be taken back to your ward to rest.

It is important to note that arthroscopic decompression of patellar tendonitis is a significant surgical procedure and it will take time for you to fully recover from the surgery. While you are recovering, it is essential that sporting activities are not re-started too quickly. While this can be frustrating for keen athletes, it is helpful to take things slowly in order to gain maximum benefit from the surgery.

All surgical procedures carry risks and the potential for complications. For arthroscopic decompression of patellar tendonitis these include:

  • Infection in the knee joint,
  • Bruising and swelling of the knee,
  • Damage to the nerves near the knee joint,
  • Tearing of the patellar tendon,
  • Formation of a blood clot (known as a ‘deep vein thrombosis’ or ‘DVT’).

The above risks are intended as guidelines only and are not exhaustive. We always recommend that you talk with your consultant about potential risks and complications before you decide to have any surgery.

The consultant-led orthopaedic Knee Clinic at St Joseph’s has vast experience in carrying out arthroscopic decompression of patellar tendonitis.

Should you be experiencing pain and/or stiffness in your knee joint, please contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our knee specialists. They will expertly assess the cause of your pain and determine the best treatment option available for you.

Should arthroscopic decompression of patellar tendonitis be required, the expert team in our Knee Unit will make sure you receive the best treatment and post-operative support possible.

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