What Causes Tendon Inflammation?

Conditions list medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

Tendons are thick cords that join your muscles to your bones. When tendons become irritated or inflamed, the condition is called tendinitis. Tendinitis causes acute pain and tenderness, making it difficult to move the affected joint. Any tendon... Read More

Tendons are thick cords that join your muscles to your bones. When tendons become irritated or inflamed, the condition is called tendinitis. Tendinitis causes acute pain and tenderness, making it difficult to move the affected joint.

Any tendon can develop tendinitis, but you’re more likely to develop it in your shoulder, knee, elbow, heel, or wrist.

Tendinitis may also be called by one of the following names:

  • swimmer’s shoulder
  • jumper’s knee
  • pitcher’s shoulder
  • golfer’s elbow
  • tennis elbow

Causes of tendinitis

The most common cause of tendinitis is repetitive action. Tendons help you make a certain movement over and over. You may develop tendinitis if you frequently make the same motion while playing sports or working. The risk increases if you perform the motion incorrectly.

Tendinitis can also result from:

Athletes who participate in certain sports, such as tennis, golf, bowling, or basketball, are at a higher risk of tendinitis. You may also be at a higher risk if your job requires physical exertion, overhead lifting, or repetitive motions or tasks.

Signs of tendinitis

The pain from tendinitis is typically a dull ache concentrated around the affected area or joint. It increases when you move the injured area. The area will be tender and you’ll 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 doesn’t improve after a few days of rest, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Diagnosing tendinitis

At your appointment, your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam of the area where the pain is concentrated. They’ll also examine your tenderness and range of motion.

Be prepared to tell your doctor about the following:

  • recent or past injuries to the area in pain
  • your past and present sports and physical activities
  • any previously diagnosed medical conditions
  • all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal supplements you take

If your doctor can’t make a diagnosis using just a physical examination, they may order additional tests. These could include X-rays, MRI scans, or ultrasounds.

Treating tendinitis

Treatment options for tendinitis help reduce pain and inflammation in the tendon. Some basic home remedies include:

  • resting or elevating the tendon as advised by your doctor
  • applying heat or ice
  • taking medications, such as the pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol) and the anti-inflammatory drugs aspirin (Bayer), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
  • wrapping the area in a compression bandage until the swelling goes away
  • doing stretches and exercises to build strength and improve mobility in the area

If your condition is more severe, your doctor may also recommend:

  • supports such as splints, braces, or a cane
  • surgery to remove inflammatory tissue
  • physical therapy
  • corticosteroid injections

A single corticosteroid injection can reduce pain and inflammation, but repeated injections can cause the tendon to weaken and increase your chances of injury.

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 after it heals.

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 cases that don’t respond well to other treatments.

Preventing tendinitis

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’re an athlete.
  • Use proper posture when working at a desk or doing other tasks.
  • Don’t remain in the same position for too long. Move around periodically.
  • Use proper equipment at work and during athletic activities.

If you begin to feel the pain of tendinitis, stop your activity. Take a 20-minute break to apply ice and rest.

Medically reviewed by Gregory Minnis, DPT on July 3, 2017Written by Ann Pietrangelo


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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.

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