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What is tendonitis and how can you avoid it?

Female hiker walking along sea front. Wearing blue backpack and rain coat

Tendonitis affects the tendons in the body and can be a painful condition that is best avoided.

So what causes tendonitis and most importantly, what can you do to try and avoid it?

What are tendons?

Tendons are flexible bands of tissue which connect the muscles to the bones.

They can be small, such as the ones in the hands or large like the ones in the calf or thigh muscles.1

Tendonitis is the inflammation, irritation or tearing of a tendon and it usually occurs as a result of an injury to the tendon, or from overuse.

What causes tendonitis?

Tendonitis can happen when playing sports such as golf or tennis but also when doing everyday activities like gardening, cleaning and painting.2

It is usually caused by repeating a particular movement, which puts extra stress on the tendon.

Tendonitis can also be caused by increasing a certain activity too quickly, for example, using very heavy weights for weightlifting when you are not used to them.3

What are some of the risk factors for tendonitis?

There are lots of things that can put you more at risk of tendonitis.

Poor posture at your desk at work, stresses from other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and gout, an infection from something like an animal bite, can all make it more likely for you to get tendonitis.4

Where in the body does tendonitis affect?

Tendonitis can affect different parts of the body, especially joints. These include the elbow, wrist, knee, shoulder, hip, finger and thigh as well as the well-known Achilles tendon which connects the back of the heel to the back of the calf.

Tendonitis elbow

You might have heard of tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, and these are both types of tendonitis, named after the body part it affects.5

Sometimes the type of tendonitis is named after the place where it occurs.

Peroneal tendonitis

Peroneal tendonitis causes pain around the back and the outside of the foot and affects the peroneal tendons.6

Patella tendonitis

Patella tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendon which connects the kneecap to the shinbone.7

Who can get tendonitis?

Absolutely anybody can get tendonitis.

However, it is more common in adults over the age of 40. As you get older, your tendons also age and this means that they cannot tolerate as much stress and their elasticity is reduced, making them easier to tear.8

What are the symptoms of tendonitis?

The main symptom of tendonitis is pain. The pain is usually a dull ache which occurs all the time, but is especially worse when moving the affected area.

The affected limb or joint may also feel tender and painful to the touch and may be slightly swollen.9

Are tendonitis and bursitis the same thing?

Bursitis is similar to tendonitis with regard to the symptoms but rather than affecting the tendons directly, it affects the bursae.

Bursae are the small, fluid-filled sacs which cushion the tendons, bones and muscles around the joints.

When these become inflamed (usually due to repetitive motion), bursitis occurs.10

How should tendonitis be treated?

There are a number of things that you can do to manage the pain caused by tendonitis and to support the tendon at home.

Here are some tendonitis treatments for you to try:

Rest the tendon

As with most injuries, it is a good idea to rest the affected area. Try to avoid moving the affected tendon for two to three days.

Keep moving

Although it is very important to rest the tendons at first, once the pain has subsided and you can start moving the joint without it hurting too much, then you should continue to move it so that it does not become too stiff.

Ice the area

Wrap a bag of frozen peas or vegetables in a tea towel and then place this on the affected tendon for up to 20 minutes every two to three hours.

Keep doing this for a couple of days, as long as the pain is still there.

Support the tendon

Use a tube bandage or a soft brace to wrap around the affected areas. Ensure that the support is snug, but not too tight.

Make sure you remove the support before you go to bed so that it does not stop the normal flow of blood to the area.11 

Medication

You can take pain killers and anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin and ibuprofen to help relieve pain for the first few days.12

Prevent further pain

Until the tendon has fully recovered, you should try to avoid heavy lifting, gripping things tightly and any twisting actions which could make the pain worse.

You should also avoid playing sports until the tendon has fully recovered.13

If the pain and symptoms do not improve after a few days of rest then you will need to seek medical advice.

How to prevent tendonitis

In order to help prevent tendonitis, you need to ensure that you take it easy.

Ensure that you avoid any activities which will place stress on your tendons and if you start to feel pain when exercise then stop and rest.

It is also important to ensure that your technique is correct when you are playing sports and that you stretch properly once you have finished exercise, in order to help the range of motion of your joints.14

Sources

1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/tendonitis
2. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/arthritis-tendinitis#1
3. https://www.drugs.com/health-guide/tendonitis.html
4. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/arthritis-tendinitis#1
5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/175596
6. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/peroneal-tendonitis-stretches
7. https://www.healthline.com/health/patellar-tendonitis
8. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/arthritis-tendinitis#1
9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tendinitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20378243
10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bursitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353242
11. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bursitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353242 
12. https://www.healthline.com/health/tendinitis#treatment
13. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tendonitis/
14. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tendinitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20378243
 
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