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Jumpers' Knee and a New Year's Resolution

By: Peter Nestler

This may sound ironic, but I have jumpers' knee. That's right, even the doctor that saw me had to snicker when he made the diagnosis. So what is it, what causes it and what do you do about it? Well, these are all questions that I've been dealing with over the last week or two and the answers have lead me to my "New Year's Resolution" that's started early.

What happened to me was during a performance about 3 weeks ago I was jumping just like normal when all of a sudden my right knee started hurting to the point that I couldn't hardly jump off it. I've had pain before in various parts of my legs, but this was different, I couldn't physically push off my right leg. I could still do easy tricks, but any jump requiring me to jump high would set it off. I did 3 more shows over the next 2 days all with the same issue. I limped a bit after each show, but after a bit of rest and ice, it felt fine and I could walk normal. My first thought was to go to something serious like an acl injury, but this didn't fit the mold.

I made an appointment with a sports injury specialist the following week when I got home and proceeded to rest as much as possible. When I went in he was rather surprised to find that the pain was centered around where the patellar tendon connects to the tibia, he told me that it was rare for the injury to manifest itself there in an adult (I guess I must still be a kid least that's what he was implying :-) Usually the knee hurts closer to the patella. So in essence, I'm suffering from a teenager injury (let this be a warning to you kids that think you're invincible). Peter's Knee x-rayThankfully he said everything else related to my knees looked good, my x-rays were in good shape and it was a good thing that I sought attention so quickly as waiting for it to become chronic would seriously lengthen the recovery time.

From my rather quick research on the topic (I will admit this isn't an in depth paper on the subject), there are a couple reasons for this injury to occur, mine was almost guaranteed to have happened due to one very particular issue, flexibility. I was given some strengthening exercises to deal with possible muscle weakness, but I know that's not the problem (quick side note: I was given one exercise because he assumed my hip adducter is weak, as it is in most people, however I happen to know my adducter is quite strong as it is one of the most important muscles used to hold a unicycle seat while jump roping). No, my legs are strong as an ox, my problem was the second part of treatment, flexibility. I've always known that I need to work on this, but I've been getting away with avoiding it for most of my life, no more. I have now been seriously affected by my lack of flexibility and if I'm going to continue jumping, I have to fix this.

So now I'm onto my New Year's Resolution, stretching...a lot. I've been put on 2-3 times a day of strengthening exercises and stretching. I'm sticking to it from now on. No more putting it off because it's not fun, it's boring, it's tedious (all of which is still true) I'm a regular stretching machine. The thing I hate most about stretching is that it never feels like you're getting anywhere. I spent about 4 months stretching 30-45 minutes a day and I never saw much improvement, I felt better, but it never really seemed like I got anywhere. So I quit. This knee problem is all the motivation I need to keep at it, regardless of not getting anywhere (at least what it appears to be). The fact is that it is vital for any athlete to stretch consistently. You have to keep your body in prime condition otherwise you're placing undo strain on your joints. By having tight hamstrings, I was forcing more weight onto my knee and patellar tendon, forcing it to take much more stress than it should ever have had to deal with. Eventually something gave and here I am.

My advice, stretch. Make sure to warm up before you do so. It's not good to start stretching when your muscles are cold, but don't get into your warm up, feel like everything is good and skip it. It's vital. The other thing to remember, stretch when you're done! This is where you will actually see the most long-term benefit from stretching, but so few of us actually do it. Make it part of your workout, factor it in, this is just as important as all the rest of the stuff you're doing. Take it from me, you don't want to deal with jumpers' knee, it's not fun walking around like an old dude (my wife already makes fun of me enough for being old, it's not good to give her ammunition). If you do find a nagging issue with a knee or joint, don't wait for 2-3 months for it to become chronic. Bite your pride and get it checked out now. I was told that if I'd waited for 3 months, my recovery time would have gone from 2-4 weeks to 6-9 months. 2 weeks is bad enough, I couldn't imagine dealing with this for over half a year.

The good news, I'm not going to have this problem in a couple weeks. I will be pain free and off to a much healthier life as I get into my new role as the stretch master. I'll never be a yoga king, I will probably never do the splits, but I can say that I will be stretching consistently everyday for the rest of my life. Why don't you join me and save yourself a world of hurt.