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Causes and Treatment of Tendonitis

Updated on November 13, 2012

There are hundreds of tendons in the human body, but only several seem prone to serious problems. That’s because they are the most used and tend to have a poor blood supply which can be a cause for tissue damage. What is a tendon? Generally speaking it’s the flexible fibrous tissue connecting bones to muscle. When muscles contract to move the muscular skeletal system, it puts tension on them.

Some are small, like the ones found in the fingers and some are larger, such as the Achilles tendon in the heel. Normally, they move easily and smoothly. But sometimes overuse and other reasons can cause them to become inflamed. This condition is known as tendonitis, meaning inflammation of the tendon. When that happens, it can cause intense pain to the affected area.

Technically speaking, the area of a tendon prone to injury is called a "watershed zone.” This is the area where blood supply is weakest and therefore healing is slow. Tendonitis most often occurs to persons in the 40-60 year old age range. As people age, tendons progressively loses their youthful elasticity. The most common cause is overuse, however there are cases where the problem can be anatomical in nature and surgical intervention may be required.

Tendonitis is usually diagnosed during a physical examination without the use of X-rays or MRIs, unless the physician believes there could be other underlying problems such as a fracture.

Symptoms can include:

· Tenderness over the tendon

· Muscle and tendon pain associated with movement

· Tendon swelling

Once the diagnosis has been made, treatment can be applied. The type of treatment depends on what tendons are affected. The types most commonly seen are:

· Wrist - swelling around the wrist due to inflammation of the tendon sheath

· Achilles - pain and swelling in the back of the heel

· Patellar (kneecap) - often called Jumper's Knee. Rest and anti-inflammatory medication are usually prescribed.

· Rotator Cuff - mimics symptoms of shoulder bursitis

· Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) – commonly associated with many tennis players experiencing pain over the outside of the elbow.

Basic tendonitis treatment is usually very simple. It begins by taking a break from whatever activity caused the problem to allow the inflamed tendon to heal. Often a splint or brace will help protect the area and ice packs are used to decrease swelling. Anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen and aspirin also help to decrease swelling and give pain relief.

However, in more persistent cases an injection of cortisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory medication, may be considered. Cortisone can’t be used in all tendonitis cases. For example, it is rarely recommended for Achilles tendonitis due to concerns about possible rupture of the tendon.

It’s not only athletes that can be afflicted with this painful condition, but anyone performing repetitive tasks such as gardeners or factory workers. As with any treatment, prevention and protective measures are the best remedies.

Proper strengthening and exercise techniques can help in avoiding the onset of tendonitis. For example, Rotator cuff tendonitis sufferers can learn to move the shoulder in ways that reduces aggravation to the tendons. However, never begin any exercise until tendons have completely healed.

Take Breaks when performing repetitive tasks with breaks to relieve stress on the tendons. Try varying activities to relieve the stress or avoid them altogether. Also important is to wear protective gear such as wrist splints, knee supports, etc.

These steps are usually sufficient for basic tendonitis treatment. But those who have tendonitis contributed to by other conditions like arthritis and gout, usually find it recurs more often and is harder to treat. Unfortunately, the best advice is to avoid activities which cause it and treat the gout and arthritis the best they can.

But as with any treatment, consult a doctor before beginning any treatment program.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I do try my best. Well, most of the time.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Voted up and useful for the wonderful information contained herein. Good research!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      Tendonitis is a common problem and you have given us some excellent information in this hub. Up and useful!