4 Keys to Manage Basketball Knee Pain
Knee pain when playing basketball is extremely common, especially pain in the front of the knee. A recent study from 2022 indicated that 43% of collegiate basketball players reported pain in the front of their knee.
The most common sources of knee pain in basketball players are patellar tendinopathy (aka “Jumper’s Knee”) or patellofemoral joint pain (aka pain around your knee cap). As a basketball player, the exact source of your pain is not that important for you, but it will matter more to your physical therapist or athletic trainer, and there are many similarities in how these knee pain conditions are managed.
Here are four key things you can do to prevent or help manage your basketball knee pain:
1. Ramp Up Impact Gradually
Early in the season, we see many basketball players that complain of pain in the front of their knee. Often, this is due to ramping up too quickly and a change in playing or training surface.
Most fall sports are played outside on soft, grass surfaces. As basketball starts, athletes transition onto the hard basketball court. This surface change takes awhile for the body to adjust to and changes how your body has to manage and absorb forces, which can put more stress on the knees.
To learn more about how surfaces impact injury risk watch this video:
Additionally, most basketball teams start with long practices (sometimes two-a-days) with lots of impact. If your body was not used to that much running, jumping, stopping and starting, this quick spike in activity levels can lead to soreness.
If possible, start building up gradually going into your season with progressively more running, jumping, landing and cutting. Start in half court activities where speeds will be lower, and then transition into full court activities. This will help decrease the stress on your knees and decrease your risk of developing knee pain from basketball.
What if your knees already hurt?
The advice is the same: decrease full court high speed/high impact activities and substitute in more half court, ball handling, stationary shooting, skill work. Even defensive slide drills will be easier on your knees than lots of hard driving to the basket.
As your knees feel better, start to gradually increase the full court, high speed activities.
2. Strengthen the Quads
Often the most common finding when we evaluate basketball knee pain is a decrease in force output (strength) of the quadricep muscles on the front of your thighs. These muscles go right across the knee cap and into your patellar tendon.
By restoring the strength of your quadricep muscles, you will help decrease the stress on your knee joint itself and it will also help strengthen the tissues in your patellar tendon.
Here is one of our favorite simple home exercises to target quad strength that only requires body weight:
3. Don’t Forget the Glutes
The second most common thing we see with basketball knee pain is decreased hip strength. If the muscles that surround your hip are weak, it can put more stress on your knees as you run, jump and land. Often, by improving your hip strength, it can help decrease the stress on your knees.
Here is our favorite hip exercise to incorporate into your routine:
4. Try Isometrics
Many times basketball players will complain of knee pain during common lifting movements like lunges and squats. Rather than skip these exercises, try to modify them and do them as an isometric hold.
With longer isometric holds, there is often less pain because the knee joint itself does not have to move, but the muscles still work very hard, so you can continue to maintain or build strength without irritating your knee pain.
Here is one of our favorite isometric exercises to try if lunges are painful:
Just because you are dealing with knee pain as a basketball player doesn’t mean you have to sit out. We have helped hundreds of basketball players continue to practice and play while managing pain in the front of their knee. Contact us today to set up a free injury consultation with one of our therapists and get specific guidance on next steps you need to take to play basketball pain free and perform at a high level!
Learn more from us:
Hannington M, Tait T, Docking S, Cook J, Owoeye O, Bonello C, Emery C, Pasanen K, Edwards S, Rio E. Prevalence and Pain Distribution of Anterior Knee Pain in Collegiate Basketball Players. J Athl Train. 2022 Apr 1;57(4):319-324. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-0604.20. PMID: 34329433; PMCID: PMC9020603.