What is tendonitis?

Tendonitis causes acute pain, swelling, and tenderness in the affected joint, making it painful to move.
Tendonitis causes acute pain, swelling, and tenderness in the affected joint, making it painful to move.

Tendons are thick cords of tissue that attach muscles to bones. When these tendons become irritated or inflamed, it’s called tendonitis. Tendonitis causes acute pain, swelling, and tenderness in the affected joint, making it painful to move.

Any tendon can develop tendonitis, but you’re more likely to develop it in joints that are most active during physical activities, like your elbow, heel, knee, shoulder, or wrist.

Symptoms of tendonitis

Tendonitis usually happens after repeated use of a joint, such as the wrist or ankle, is done too much or incorrectly, which leads to injury. Tendonitis symptoms include pain, tenderness, and soreness around a joint. It is difficult and painful to move and is also painful to the touch. Sometimes the affected joint can swell. 

Types of tendonitis

Most common forms of tendonitis are named after the sports that increase their risk. They include:

Golfer's elbow

This type of tendonitis is when the tendons that attach your forearm muscles to the inside bone at your elbow become inflamed.

Jumper's knee

Also known as Patellar Tendonitis, jumper’s knee is characterized by an inflammation in the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to the shin bone. Continued activity on jumper’s knee could lead to a tear in the tendon.

Pitcher's shoulder 

Overhand throwing places extreme stress on the shoulder, particularly the tendons that keep the shoulder stable. While most common among baseball players, this tendonitis can also be seen in other types of sports that require repetitive overhand motions like volleyball, tennis, and some track and field events.

Swimmer's shoulder

Similar to pitcher’s shoulder, this form of tendonitis affects the shoulder ligaments from continuous improper overhead motions of the arm. Freestyle or backstroke are the most common swim strokes to cause tendonitis.

Tennis elbow

Tennis elbow is inflammation or sometimes a micro-tear of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. The forearm muscles and tendons are damaged from repeating the same motions over and over. This leads to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.

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Causes of tendonitis

The most common cause of tendonitis is overuse through repetitive action. Tendons help you make a certain movement over and over. You increase the risk of developing tendonitis, however, if you make the same motion too often, or in incorrect ways. 

Overload can also cause tendonitis. If you increase an activity level or intensity too quickly, you can more easily create tendonitis.

Tendonitis can occur from an acute injury on a single occasion, but usually develops over time through overuse.

Diagnosis for tendonitis

In order to diagnose tendonitis, your doctor will review your medical history and ask about the quality of your pain. They will  perform a physical exam of the affected area, checking for pain, tenderness, swelling, redness, and range of motion.

If they can’t confirm what is causing the tendonitis, they may order additional tests that could include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, or ultrasounds. 

Treatments for tendonitis

Treatment options for mild tendonitis can be done at home and are meant to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation in the injured tendon. Some basic remedies include:

If your condition is more severe, your doctor may also recommend support like a splint, brace, or cane. In extreme cases, surgery can be performed to remove the inflamed tissue, followed by physical therapy. A single corticosteroid injection can reduce pain and inflammation, but repeated injections can cause the tendon to weaken and increase your chances of injury.

Tendonitis usually resolves quickly, especially if it is treated early. For some people, however, it can become a recurring, chronic problem. If the physical activities you’re engaged in keep causing tendonitis, you might think of reducing or completely removing them from your physical regimen, or at least until you have fully healed. Otherwise, you risk causing a more severe injury, like a ruptured tendon.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/19/2021
References
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, OrthoInfo: “Golf Injury Prevention.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, OrthoInfo: “Shoulder Injuries in the Throwing Athlete.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, OrthoInfo: “Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis).”

American College of Rheumatology: “Tendinitis (Bursitis).”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Tendonitis.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Patellar Tendonitis (Jumper’s Knee).”

North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: “Prevention and Treatment of Swimmer’s Shoulder.”

National Institute of Health, News in Health: “Protect Your Tendons: Preventing the Pain of Tendinitis.”