On the path to jumping higher and sprinting faster, many athletes encounter a condition known as “jumper’s knee,” which is medically referred to as patellar tendinitis. It is identified by significant and extended pain in the ligament which connects your kneecap to your shinbone.
Jumper’s knee can be so debilitating that it takes an athlete out of their sport entirely. Rest, ice and constant visits to the trainer often seem like their only options. However, two groups of researchers have found a potent approach for relieving jumper’s knee–isometric training.
Isometric exercises—i.e., those where the affected joints don’t move and the involved muscles don’t noticeably change length—require you to hold a challenging position for an extended period of time. Let’s dive into these two studies and see how isometric training be an effective fighter of patellar tendinitis.
Isometric Training vs. Isotonic Training
Jumping athletes with patellar tendon pain were randomized into two groups. Group 1 was the isometric training group, while Group 2 was the isotonic training group. In the gym most people perform isotonic exercises: traditional movements with a standard up-and-down tempo. Both groups performed four exercise sessions per week for four consecutive weeks.
The participants were also actively competing throughout the study, participating in their sport at least three times per week. To assess patellar tendon pain, participants were asked to rate on a scale of 1-10 the pain they experienced during a Single-Leg Decline Squat. This measurement was taken both at baseline and at the four-week follow-up.
Here’s what the Single-Leg Decline Squat looks like:
Both groups saw significant improvement in their median pain scores, and there was no significant difference in the improvement between the two groups.
“This is the first study to show a decrease in patellar tendon pain without a modification of training and competition load and the first study to investigate isometric exercises in a clinical setting,” the study’s authors concluded.
Less Pain, Same Gains
Six volleyball players with patellar tendon pain were separated into two groups: one isometric group (doing 45-second holds) and one isotonic group (doing controlled eccentric-concentric repetitions). The training sessions were 45 minutes and included a range of tests. The Single-Leg Decline Squat pain test was used at baseline, immediately after exercise, and 45 minutes after the completion of exercise.
The isometric group saw a mean reduction in their pain score of 6.8 points (out of 10) while the isotonic group saw a mean reduction in their pain score of 2.6 points. That’s a pretty powerful result for the isometric group, and the reduction in pain was sustained at 45 minutes post-exercise (which was not the case for the isotonic group).
“Isometric contractions can be completed without pain for people with (patellar tendonitis). The clinical implications are that isometric muscle contractions may be used to reduce pain in people with (patellar tendonitis) without a reduction in muscle strength,” the study’s authors concluded.
Effectiveness of Isometric Training
The first study showed that isometric training is just as effective as normal training for providing pain relief to in-season jumping athletes.
The second study showed superior results immediately and 45 minutes post-exercise in isometric training compared to normal training.
If you are suffering with jumper’s knee pain, don’t let it sideline you. Give isometric training a try. It’s useful during the season and could be more effective than typical up-and-down repetition-type training. It can also offer an immediate pain relieving effect in a way many other types of exercise simply can’t.
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