Overview

Tendinitis is inflammation or irritation of a tendon — the thick fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone. The condition causes pain and tenderness just outside a joint.

While tendinitis can occur in any of your tendons, it's most common around your shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and heels.

Some common names for various tendinitis problems are:

  • Tennis elbow
  • Golfer's elbow
  • Pitcher's shoulder
  • Swimmer's shoulder
  • Jumper's knee

Most cases of tendinitis can be successfully treated with rest, physical therapy and medications to reduce pain. If tendinitis is severe and leads to the rupture of a tendon, you may need surgery.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of tendinitis tend to occur at the point where a tendon attaches to a bone and typically include:

  • Pain often described as a dull ache, especially when moving the affected limb or joint
  • Tenderness
  • Mild swelling

When to see a doctor

Most cases of tendinitis can respond to self-care measures. See your doctor if your signs and symptoms persist and interfere with your day-to-day activities for more than a few days.

Causes

Although tendinitis can be caused by a sudden injury, the condition is much more likely to stem from the repetition of a particular movement over time. Most people develop tendinitis because their jobs or hobbies involve repetitive motions, which put stress on the tendons needed to perform the tasks.

Using proper technique is especially important when performing repetitive sports movements or job-related activities. Improper technique can overload the tendon — which can occur, for instance, with tennis elbow — and lead to tendinitis.

Risk factors

Risk factors for developing tendinitis include age, working in particular jobs or participating in certain sports.

Age

As people get older, their tendons become less flexible — which makes them easier to injure.

Occupations

Tendinitis is more common in people whose jobs involve:

  • Repetitive motions
  • Awkward positions
  • Frequent overhead reaching
  • Vibration
  • Forceful exertion

Sports

You may be more likely to develop tendinitis if you participate in certain sports that involve repetitive motions, especially if your technique isn't optimal. This can occur with:

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Bowling
  • Golf
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Tennis

Complications

Without proper treatment, tendinitis can increase your risk of experiencing tendon rupture — a much more serious condition that may require surgical repair.

If tendon irritation persists for several weeks or months, a condition known as tendinosis may develop. This condition involves degenerative changes in the tendon itself, along with abnormal new blood vessel growth.

Prevention

To reduce your chance of developing tendinitis, follow these suggestions:

  • Ease up. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your tendons, especially for prolonged periods. If you notice pain during a particular exercise, stop and rest.
  • Mix it up. If one exercise or activity causes you a particular, persistent pain, try something else. Cross-training can help you mix up an impact-loading exercise, such as running, with lower impact exercise, such as biking or swimming.
  • Improve your technique. If your technique in an activity or exercise is flawed, you could be setting yourself up for problems with your tendons. Consider taking lessons or getting professional instructions when starting a new sport or using exercise equipment.
  • Stretch. Take time after exercise to stretch in order to maximize the range of motion of your joints. This can help to minimize repetitive trauma on tight tissues. The best time to stretch is after exercise, when your muscles are warmed up.
  • Use proper workplace ergonomics. If possible, get an ergonomic assessment of your work space and adjust your chair, keyboard and desktop as recommended for your height, arm length and usual tasks. This will help protect all your joints and tendons from excessive stress.
  • Prepare your muscles to play. Strengthening muscles used in your activity or sport can help them better withstand stress and load.
Nov. 14, 2014
References
  1. Adams JG. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 3, 2014.
  2. Bursitis and tendinitis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bursitis/default.asp. Accessed Oct. 3, 2014.
  3. Tendinitis and bursitis. American College of Rheumatology. http://www.rheumatology.org/Practice/Clinical/Patients/Diseases_And_Conditions/Tendinitis_and_Bursitis/. Accessed Oct. 3, 2014.
  4. Khan K, et al. Overview of overuse (chronic) tendinopathy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 3, 2014.
  5. Khan K, et al. Overview of the management of overuse (chronic) tendinopathy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 3, 2014.
  6. Protect your tendons: Preventing the pain of tendinitis. National Institute of Health News in Health. http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/jun2014/feature2. Accessed Oct. 2, 2014.
  7. Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 7, 2014.
  8. Andia I, et al. Platelet-rich plasma in the conservative treatment of painful tendinopathy: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled studies. British Medical Bulletin. 2014;110:99.