Jumper’s knee and runner’s knee are non-medical terms often used to describe pain at the front of the knee. This article describes how jumper’s knee and runner’s knee are defined on Sports-health.com and how they may be defined by other sources.

Jumper’s Knee Defined

Jumper’s knee refers to a problem in the patellar tendon, such as inflammation (patellar tendinitis), thickening (patellar tendinosis), or a tear.

See What Is the Difference Between Tendonitis, Tendinosis, and Tendinopathy?

The patellar tendon begins (or originates) on the patella (kneecap) and travels down the front of the knee to insert on the top of the shin bone, called the tibial tubercle. When the thigh’s quadriceps muscles contract, the patellar tendon is pulled, which in turn straightens the knee and extends the leg.

See Guide to Knee Joint Anatomy

Overuse or a sudden stress on the patellar tendon (such as a heavy or awkward landing) can cause inflammation or tears in the tendon tissue. This may cause pain, swelling, and discomfort, particularly during jumping, running, and other athletic activities.

In contrast to patellofemoral pain (runner’s knee), the knee pain from patellar tendinitis often decreases with time during activity as the tendon “warms up.”

See Understanding Jumper’s Knee

Runner’s Knee Defined

“Runner’s knee” is the common name for patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). This syndrome is caused by pain from abnormal contact and movement patterns of the patella (kneecap) on the femur (thigh bone), causing pain in front or beneath the kneecap. Runner’s knee can be caused by any number of underlying factors, including:

  • Training Errors. A sudden increase in the volume or intensity of training may place excessive stress on the patellofemoral joint. Likewise, inadequate recovery time or excessive hill work may do the same.
  • Overuse and overtraining of the knee. Prolonged periods of heavy use and training can cause runner’s knee in even the most conditioned athletes, if adequate time for recovery is not provided. For example, a distance runner completing a particularly rigorous week of training may develop runner’s knee pain.
  • Injury. An injury to the ankle, hip, or knee can change the knee’s biomechanics, eventually leading to runner’s knee symptoms.
  • Focal Weakness. Weak or underdeveloped thigh or hip muscles can cause the patellofemoral joint to bare a larger stress burden with activity. Over time this can lead to the development of runner’s knee.
  • Excessive body weight. Being overweight can cause unwanted stress on the knees. When walking across level ground, each step places 1.5 times an individual’s body weight worth of pressure on their knees.1Why weight matters when it comes to joint pain. Harvard Health. 2015. Available at: www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/why-weight-matters-when-it-comes-to-joint-pain. Accessed July 24. 2015.
  • Flexibility: Particularly tight quadriceps (thigh), gastrocnemius (calf), iliotibial band (outside of thigh), or hamstrings, may predispose to runner’s knee.
  • Gender. Women have an increased risk of runner’s knee, as females have wider hips and different knee alignment than men.

Understanding the cause of runner’s knee pain can help guide treatment.

Read more: What You Need to Know About Runner’s Knee

Do these name differences matter?

Receiving an accurate medical diagnosis, such as patellar tendonitis, is more important than the informal name used to describe the pain. Moreover, many times more than one problem is present—for example, a person whose kneecap is not tracking properly may also develop patellar tendinitis.

While the treatments for runner’s knee and jumper’s knee are similar, several differences do exist. Fortunately, they rarely require surgery.

Read more: Treatment of Jumper’s Knee

See Treatment of Runner’s Knee

Dr. Michael Khadavi is a sports medicine physician specializing in spine care, musculoskeletal ultrasound, regenerative medicine, and sports-related injuries. He practices at Apex Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Dr. Khadavi is an educator in regenerative medicine and has been an invited lecturer at the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Association of Academic Physiatrists, Major League Soccer, and Stanford University.