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Tendinitis occurs when a tendon becomes irritated or inflamed, leading to pain and tenderness around a joint. Tendons are thick cords that attach the muscles to the bones. While all tendons are susceptible to tendinitis, the condition most commonly occurs in the shoulders, wrists, elbows, knees, or heels. Here is what you should know about this common ailment.
Tendinitis is often known by another name, depending on which tendon is affected and the activity commonly responsible for irritating that tendon. These include, but are not limited to:
- Tennis elbow
- Golfer’s elbow
- Jumper’s knee
- Pitcher’s shoulder
- Swimmer’s shoulder
These names can be misleading, as you do not need to play tennis to develop tennis elbow or be a baseball pitcher to develop pitcher’s shoulder. Still, those who are involved in these specific activities are more likely to experience the condition.
Tendinitis is occasionally caused by a traumatic injury, but it is far more likely to be caused by repetitive use. Many people are surprised to learn that even a desk job can cause tendinitis if your workstation is not ergonomic or you do not take frequent enough breaks.
Older people are at higher risk for tendinitis due to less flexibility in the tendons, though it can occur at any age. Those whose jobs or hobbies involve repetitive motions, awkward body positioning, or forceful exertion are also at increased risk. Athletes whose sports require repetitive movements, such as baseball, golf, running, swimming, and tennis, must take care to cross-train and avoid overtraining to reduce their risk of tendinitis.
Symptoms of tendinitis tend to occur where the tendon attaches to a bone. They include:
- Pain, especially when moving the affected area
- Minor swelling
Pain from tendinitis typically responds well to self-care, including rest and over the counter pain relievers. If you can take them, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen typically work best.
If symptoms become severe or limit your daily activities for more than a few days, seek medical help. Severe cases of tendinitis may require non-surgical interventions to correct. Do not ignore tendinitis, as, over time, it can develop into more serious tendinosis. In very severe cases, a ruptured tendon could result.
It is impossible to prevent every case of tendinitis, but you can dramatically lower your risk by following these simple tips:
Rest: Playing through pain is one of the biggest risk factors for any repetitive use injury. If you start to notice discomfort, take a break.
Cross-train: It’s fine to specialize in one sport, but failure to cross-train can lead to muscle imbalances that raise your risk for repetitive use injuries.
Fix your technique: Improper technique is a major risk factor for tendinitis. Consider getting some instruction or taking a class when starting a new hobby or sport.
Stretch and strengthen: Do some stretching before and after every workout to improve your flexibility and range of motion. Embark on a complete fitness program that strengthens not only the muscles used in your job or activity but all the muscles in your body. This helps your body withstand stressors and decreases your risk of injury.
Improve your ergonomics: Set up your workstation in the most ergonomic way possible based on your own unique body. Your height, arm length, and other factors should be taken into consideration when choosing the right chair and adjusting your keyboard, monitor, and mouse.
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Dr. Richard Kang is double board certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine, and he completed an interventional pain medicine fellowship at the prestigious New York Presbyterian Hospital / Columbia University – College of Physicians and Surgeons. Read his full bio here.