Understanding Tendinitis | Revere Health

Many basic movements require the help of tendons within the body. Tendons are thick, fibrous cords that attach muscle and bone, acting as pulleys to help these muscles move an individual joint.

When a tendon becomes inflamed, however, it can result in a condition called tendonitis (also spelled tendonitis). Tendinitis leads to pain and tenderness just outside a joint, and it’s mostly found in areas like the shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and heels. You may have heard of a few variations of tendinitis-related conditions:

  • Tennis or golfer’s elbow
  • Jumper’s knee
  • Pitcher or swimmer’s shoulder

In some cases, severe cases of tendinitis can lead to ruptured tendons that require surgical repair. However, most cases can be treated with proper rest and treatment.

Symptoms and Possible Complications

Symptoms of tendinitis occur directly at the point where a tendon attaches to a bone. They include:

  • Pain, often described as a dull ache. Pain can be especially noticeable when moving the affected area.
  • Tenderness
  • Mild swelling

If left untreated, tendinitis can raise your risk of a tendon rupture. This is a much more severe event that requires surgical repair in some cases. In addition, chronic cases of tendinitis can develop into a condition called tendinosis, which involves degenerative changes to the tendon and abnormal new blood vessel growth.

 

Causes and Risk Factors

Tendinitis is primarily caused by sports-related injuries or, even more commonly, from the repetition of similar movements over time. This is often because a job or hobby requires these repetitive movements, which puts stress on the tendons involved. Other causes of tendinitis include:

  • Bad posture or walking habits
  • Certain arthritis or related conditions
  • Soft tissue stress caused by abnormally-positioned joint or bone
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Metabolic conditions like diabetes

Factors that may put you at increased risk of tendinitis include:

  • Age: Tendons become less flexible with age, making injury (and therefore tendinitis) more likely.
  • Sports: Sports involving repeated motions, such as baseball, basketball, golf, tennis and others, raise tendinitis risk. This is especially true if you’re using improper technique during these repeated motions.
  • Occupations: If your job involves repeated motions, forceful exertion, awkward positions, vibration or repeated overhead reaching, you could be at higher risk.

Treatment

In some cases, tendinitis will go away on its own over time. In others, your doctor will recommend treatment, or may refer you to a specialist if appropriate. Treatment options include:

  • Rest and splints: In many cases of overuse, resting the affected area is enough to solve the issue. Splints can help with this rest.
  • Temperature therapy: Cold compression can help with immediate swelling and pain (within the first 48 hours of overuse or injury), and warm therapy like a bath can be effective after this point.
  • Medications: Whether over-the-counter or prescription, your doctor may recommend certain pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Injections: These are powerful, corticosteroid injections shot straight into the joint to reduce extreme inflammation.
  • Therapy: Physical therapy can provide a variety of benefits for many people. In addition, an occupational therapist can recommend any necessary modifications to work habits and daily activities to prevent re-injury.
  • Self-care: Because most tendinitis is caused by overuse, modifying your basic lifestyle can often help reduce symptoms.

Prevention

You can also take a number of steps to reduce your chances of developing tendinitis:

  • Avoid high-stress activities: Avoid exercises and activities that place noticeable stress on your tendons. If you notice pain during exercises, stop and rest.
  • Keep it fresh: The same exercises repeated over and over can put you at higher risk for tendinitis. Try mixing it up with different exercises at various intensity levels, especially if certain exercises are giving you pain.
  • Practice proper stretching and technique: Proper stretching is vital for keeping range of motion open in the joints—including after exercise, which is actually the best time to stretch since muscles are warm. In addition, proper technique for any repetitive movements of exercise is vital.
  • Get an ergonomic assessment: If it’s appropriate at work, have an ergonomic assessment done of your workplace and make sure everything is fit specifically to your arm length and regular tasks.
  • Strengthen your muscles: Any activities you can do to strengthen muscles that are frequently used during exercise will help these muscles withstand stress.

If you have tendinitis or are at risk of a tendon rupture, speak to your doctor about treatment options and he or she will determine the best course of treatment for you.

Michael Carlson, MD

Orthopedics is rewarding for me because it allows me to help patients with injuries and get them back into action quickly. My classes in anatomy initially sparked my interest in medicine and also led me to choose orthopedics as a specialty. I love meeting people of all ages in my practice—I see kids, athletes, adults and retirees. I enjoy being able to understand people’s unique situations and trying to help them recover.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.

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