Pain Under Knee Cap After Basketball | 4 Possible Causes (With Treatments)

Written By on December 24, 2022 — Medically Reviewed By Mitch Torres (PT)

Written by on — Medically Reviewed By: Mitch Torres (PT)

Feeling pain under the knee cap after basketball is usually a sign of an overuse injury. Thankfully, some rest and ice are often enough to ease the symptoms.

Yet, it’s key to identify which injury is causing the pain under your kneecap after playing basketball. This ensures you get the right treatment and go back to the court without nagging injuries.

These are the topics covered, tap on any of them to go to its section:

4 Reasons behind knee pain under the patella after basketball

The main causes of this specific type of pain include:

1) Patellar tendinitis

It’s a common overuse injury in basketball players and it’s also known as “jumper’s knee”. It’s the inflammation of the strip of tissue sitting below your kneecap – the patellar tendon.



The repetitive stress from jumping and cutting maneuvers irritates this tendon, causing micro-tears. Training excessively and playing harshly can also cause this. (1)

Most athletes suffering from this experience sudden pain with activity, which can worsen if the tendon doesn’t have enough time to heal. The discomfort usually stops immediately as you rest. (1)

2) Osgood-Schlatter’s disease (OSD)

This knee injury describes pain and swelling on the top of your shin bone, where the patellar tendon attaches. Most of the time, it looks like a swollen spot, painful to the touch.

The cause is excessive jumping and sprinting, movements that force the patellar tendon and pull it from its attachment. That’s why OSD is common in sporty adolescents, during their bone development. (2)

Most people with this injury complain of one-sided knee pain, but as much as 30% of OSD cases have symptoms on both legs. (2)

Keep reading: Painful lump below the knee – causes, treatments, and more.

3) Runner’s knee

Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, this injury refers to pain in and around your kneecap.

Runner’s knee is caused by, well, running. If your leg and hip muscles aren’t strong enough, running excessively puts too much strain on your kneecap, irritating it and causing pain. (3)

In this injury, the knee joint pain usually worsens during jogging or sprinting down the court. It could also hurt and feel stiff after sitting for a long time. (3)

Related: Causes of pain on the outside of the knee after basketball.

4) Early-onset knee osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis (KOA) is the gradual thinning of joint cartilage, also known as “wear and tear.”

It can happen earlier in life for those with a previous joint injury, particularly meniscus and ACL tears, which are fairly common in basketball players. In fact, 30% of former athletes are found to have some degree of KOA. (4)

Most basketball players with KOA often experience knee joint pain, stiffness, and reduced function that usually eases during the game, but can reoccur after it.

Learn more: What is early-onset knee osteoarthritis?

How to treat pain under the patella after a basketball game

There are many ways to treat knee pain due to basketball, but the most common include:

RICE therapy

This is an acronym that stands for:

  • Rest – to allow your body to recover.
  • Ice – to alleviate pain and swelling.
  • Compression – via bandage to reduce inflammation and protect your knee from further damage.
  • Elevation – Rising your legs above the heart level to further reduce symptoms.

Combining these strategies helps dial down the pain and swelling to make your joint feel better. It’s a great first-aid treatment for most of the knee injuries above.

Keep reading: Should you ice your knees after playing basketball?

Wear a knee brace

Wearing a compression sleeve can promote recovery by increasing blood flow and reducing pain. It’s a great tool for most knee injuries. However, a patellar strap may be best for tendon-related problems, like jumper’s knee pain. (5)

Check them out: Best knee braces for playing basketball.

Strengthen your legs

Strength training promotes recovery by promoting blood flow and reducing pain. It also prepares you for the demands of the sport and can prevent future injuries.

Doing basic bodyweight exercises like squats and lunges a couple of times per week is a great start once your symptoms settle down. But those looking for a more intense workout may need to get cleared first by their healthcare provider.

Try them: How to strengthen your knees for basketball.

Physical therapy

Athletes plagued with frequent or long-term knee issues would benefit from getting it checked by a physio.

Some might need a couple of sessions to figure out and fix what’s causing their injury. For others with more severe problems, physical therapy may help delay the need for knee surgery.

Related: Causes of pain at the back of the knee after a basketball game.

FAQs

Why does my kneecap hurt after basketball?

Your kneecap may hurt after basketball because of the repetitive jumping. If this happens frequently, you should get your knee checked by a healthcare professional.

Why does my knee hurt just below the kneecap?

Your knee may hurt just below the kneecap because of a patellar tendon injury. Resting for a few days, doing the RICE method and strengthening your leg muscles could improve your symptoms.

Can I still play basketball with patellar tendonitis?

Yes, you can still play basketball with patellar tendonitis. You may have to reduce your playing frequency and wear a patellar strap while on the court to promote healing.

Conclusion: What does it mean when your knee hurts under the kneecap?

Bone and tendon irritation as well as wear and tear are common causes of knee pain under the patella after playing basketball.

But most of these injuries are considered minor and do well with conservative treatments like ice and physical therapy.

Resources

  1. Santana JA, Mabrouk A, Sherman Al. Jumpers Knee. [Updated 2022 Nov 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532969/
  2. Smith JM, Varacallo M. Osgood Schlatter Disease. [Updated 2022 Sep 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441995/
  3. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee): Overview. 2020 Aug 13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK561507/
  4. Madaleno, Fernanda O et al. “Prevalence of knee osteoarthritis in former athletes: a systematic review with meta-analysis.” Brazilian journal of physical therapy vol. 22,6 (2018): 437-451. doi: 10.1016/j.bjpt.2018.03.012
  5. de Vries, A et al. “Effect of patellar strap and sports tape on pain in patellar tendinopathy: A randomized controlled trial.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports vol. 26,10 (2016): 1217-24. DOI: 10.1111/sms.12556
Author
Paolo Sarmiento (PT)
Paolo is a physical therapist, educator and fitness enthusiast. He shares his knowledge and experience in helping people deal with health issues, especially with the knee. As health-conscious as he can be, he enjoys long bicycle rides, early morning runs, and a good slice of pizza with extra pepperoni.