Tendons are thick cords that join your muscles to your bones. When these tendons become irritated or inflamed, it is called tendinitis. This condition causes acute pain and tenderness, making it difficult to move the affected joint.
Tendinitis can be a result of an injury, repetitive movement, aging, or disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Any tendon can develop tendinitis, but you are most likely to develop the condition in your shoulder, elbow, heel, or wrist.
Tendinitis may also be called swimmer’s shoulder, jumper’s knee, pitcher’s shoulder, golfer’s or tennis elbow.
The most common cause of tendinitis is repetitive action, which overuse the tendons needed to make a certain movement. Usually, people develop tendinitis if they frequently make the same motion while playing sports or at work. The risk increases if the motion is not performed correctly.
Tendinitis can also result from:
- certain diseases, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
Athletes who play certain sports—such as tennis, golf, bowling, or basketball—are at higher risk for tendinitis. You also may be at a higher risk if your job requires a lot of physical exertion, overhead lifting, and awkward positions.
The pain from tendinitis is typically a dull ache that is concentrated around the affected area or joint. It will increase when you move the injured area. The area will be tender and you will feel increased pain if someone touches it. You may experience a tightness that makes it difficult to move the area. You may also have some swelling.
If you develop the symptoms of tendinitis, begin by resting the area and applying ice. If your condition does not improve after a few days of rest, make an appointment to see your doctor.
At your appointment, your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam of the area where the pain is concentrated. He or she will examine your tenderness and range of motion.
Be prepared to tell your doctor about:
- recent or past injuries to the area in pain
- your past and present physical and sporting activities
- any previously diagnosed medical conditions
- all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal supplements you take
Treatment options for tendinitis seek to reduce pain and inflammation in the tendon. Some basic home remedies include:
- resting or elevating the tendon, as advised by your doctor
- applying cold or heat
- taking medications, such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen
- wrapping the area in a compression bandage until the swelling goes away
- doing stretching and straightening exercises to build strength in the area
If your condition is more severe, your doctor may also recommend:
- corticosteroid injections: a single injection can reduce pain and inflammation, but repeated injections can cause the tendon to weaken and increase your chances of injury
- supports: depending on the location of your tendinitis, you may benefit from the use of a cane, splints, or braces
- surgery: to remove inflammatory tissue
- physical therapy
When treated early, tendinitis usually resolves quickly. For some people, it can recur and become a chronic or long-term, problem. If repetitive movements or overuse led to your tendinitis, you should change those behaviors to reduce your risk of developing it again.
You can cause additional injury—such as a tendon rupture—if the inflammation continues without treatment. Surgery is often necessary for a tendon rupture, and for those patients who do not respond well to other treatments. The surgery removes any inflammatory tissue and is usually done as an outpatient procedure.
Take these simple steps to lower your chances of developing tendinitis:
- keep physically fit and build your muscle tone
- warm up before exercising
- avoid overuse and repetitive motions
- cross-train, if you are an athlete
- use proper posture when working at a desk or at other tasks
- do not remain in the same position for too long, and move around periodically
- use proper equipment at work and during athletic activities
If you begin to feel the pain of tendinitis, stop the activity you are performing. Take a 20-minute break to apply ice and rest.