Patella pain is a leading complaint among athletes. Patellofemoral syndrome commonly affects athletes who jump frequently—hence the nickname "jumper's knee"—but non-jumping athletes can also fall victim to the condition.
What is Patellofemoral Syndrome?
Cartilage under the patella (knee cap) can be softened or worn down from repeated use. This causes the patella to rub directly against the femur, leading to discomfort or pain. It typically starts as a nuisance, but can progress to a debilitating problem that can impair performance.
The thing is, this injury is completely preventable. Too often athletes and strength coaches focus on an injury only when pain is felt. Instead, it's better to take a proactive approach to address the injury before it occurs.
Athletes who experience patellofemoral syndrome typically have a weak posterior chain—glutes, hamstrings and back—and have tight quads, hip flexors and IT bands. The best way to prevent Jumper's Knee is to address these issues through a combination of mobility work and strength training.
Foam roll the quads, hip flexors and IT bands for one minute each (learn more about foam rolling). Make sure to focus on sensitive spots. This breaks up adhesions, reduces tightness, increases blood flow and enhances overall mobility.
Regularly stretch the quads and hip flexors after workouts. The best way to do this is with the PNF technique: contract the target muscle by exerting force against your hand, a resistance band or a partner for 10 seconds. Release and ease into the stretch. Repeat this three times per muscle group.
Strengthening the muscles around the knee provides the support it needs to cope with the forces placed on it during competition. One of the best ways is to perform isometric holds on exercises that target the glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Specifically, I recommend performing the Glute Bridge, Single-Leg RDL and Physioball Leg Curl for three sets of three to six reps with six-second isometric holds.
Combine the Elements
Perform the Squat to combine the previous three elements, as this lower-body strength exercise requires tremendous mobility. To master Squat form, have a partner or coach press again your calves during the movement. Resist this pressure by pushing backward, which corrects technique and stabilizes the knee.
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