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Tendonitis

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 4 minutes read
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Tendonitis is a common painful condition that can affect tendons around a joint. In most cases, tendonitis is a self-limiting condition and will improve after a period of activity limitation. Tendonitis was previously believed to be a condition of inflammation within a tendon. However, it is now understood that tendonitis does not involve inflammation and instead represents multiple micro-tears accumulating and the tendon generating a healing response. Most cases of tendonitis are caused by a sudden change or increase in your activity levels.

A common tendinopathy

One of the common tendinopathies is achilles tendinopathy. It is a self-limiting condition for most people and will improve after a period of activity limitation. Only a small proportion of people with achilles tendinopathy require any formal treatment from a doctor or physiotherapist if the pain does not settle. However, tendons are slow to heal and it may take several weeks or months for complete improvement.

Tennis elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis), another common tendonitis condition is often caused by repetitive gripping and wrist extension, tennis elbow results in pain and inflammation on the outer part of the elbow.

Golfer's elbow (Medial Epicondylitis), similar to tennis elbow but affecting the inner part of the elbow, golfer's elbow results from repetitive wrist flexion and gripping activities.

Rotator cuff tendonitis, caused by repetitive overhead arm movements, common in sports like baseball or swimming, can lead to inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder, causing pain and limited mobility. Can lead to a tear.

Activities that cause your heel pain should be avoided where possible. This may require altering your exercise or recreational activities and a discussion with your employers if you require amended duties. High-impact activities such as running should be limited and a slow, graded return to these activities is vital when your symptoms start to improve. It is also important to ensure that you are wearing footwear with appropriate cushioning.

Comparison of tendoitis to other conditions

We have compared tendonitis to a range of similar conditions, including repetitive strain injuries, bursitis, ligament injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome:

Tendonitis vs Repetitive Strain Injuries

Tendonitis and Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) share similarities but differ in scope. Tendonitis specifically refers to the inflammation of tendons, while RSIs encompass a broader category of conditions caused by repetitive movements, including tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bursitis. While tendonitis is a common component of RSIs, the latter term encompasses a range of musculoskeletal disorders affecting muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves due to repetitive stress.

Tendonitis vs Bursitis

Bursitis involves inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion and reduce friction between bones, tendons, and muscles. Repetitive movements or pressure on joints can lead to bursitis, resulting in localized pain and swelling. While tendonitis affects tendons, bursitis focuses on the bursae.

Tendon vs Ligament injuries

Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissues connecting bones to each other, providing stability to joints. Injuries to ligaments, such as sprains, occur when these tissues are stretched or torn. Ligament injuries often cause pain, swelling, and joint instability. Unlike tendonitis, which involves tendons, ligament injuries pertain to the structural support of joints.

Tendonitis vs Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a specific type of repetitive strain injury (RSI) affecting the median nerve in the wrist. While tendonitis may be a component of CTS, the condition primarily involves compression of the nerve, leading to symptoms like numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and fingers.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Simple measures to help improve your symptoms include applying a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area during painful episodes. Simple painkiller medications can also provide some relief, with anti-inflammatory gels/creams applied to the skin most effective.

The best way of permanently resolving your Achilles tendinopathy is the use of specialised stretching and strengthening exercises (eccentric), though this can take several months for significant improvement to occur.

When should I see my doctor?

For most people, tendonitis can be self-managed. Most important is a period of rest and avoidance of activities that cause pain, this may require alteration to your normal exercise routine.

Where your symptoms are causing significant limitations or have failed to improve after self-treatment measures, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor may advise you on further options for painkillers, exercises or they may refer you to a physiotherapist.

Will a specialist help?

Very occasionally if your symptoms are severe or very longstanding your doctor may refer you to a specialist where further treatment options can be considered including shockwave therapy or, as a last resort, surgery.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023
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