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What Is Tendinitis?

Tendinitis is irritation, inflammation, pain, and swelling of a tendon. Tendons connect muscles to bones at joints. Injury, trauma, or stress to parts of the body with muscles and tendons can cause tendinitis. It’s a common cause of pain in shoulders, elbows, wrists, and ankles in active people. Tendinitis is certain places has specific names, such as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, rotator cuff tendinitis (shoulder), and Achilles tendinitis (ankle).

What Causes Tendinitis?

Tendinitis usually results from overuse or abnormal use of a tendon or muscle. Overworking the tendon in a job or injuring it during sports can lead to tendinitis. Other causes include aging-related wear and tear, injury, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Most often, tendinitis occurs in the shoulder, but it can occur in any joint, in any tendon.

What Are the Symptoms of Tendinitis?

Symptoms include pain, discomfort, trouble using the involved joint, and tenderness. The area may be red, swollen, and hot to the touch. The area may feel stiff in the morning for a short time. In more severe cases, movement of the joint can be restricted. Pain is worse during activities, and gets better with resting the area. Depending on its location, tendinitis may make it hard to do everyday activities, such as dressing, grooming, reaching, lifting, writing, and walking.

How Is Tendinitis Diagnosed?

The health care provider makes a diagnosis by taking a medical history and doing a physical examination of the painful area. X-rays and blood tests are generally not useful.

How Is Tendinitis Treated?

Treatment includes using rest, ice, heat, strengthening and stretching exercises, splints, acetaminophen or nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ultrasonography, and cortisone injections. Treatments are often used in combination.

If tendinitis occurred suddenly, within a few hours or days, an ice pack can be used for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, but is usually helpful only during the first few days. The affected area is kept raised, and pressure bandages are applied. The ice pack should not be put directly on the skin. For tendinitis that has lasted for a while, applying heat may help.

The health care provider may suggest seeing a physical therapist or an occupational therapist. The physical therapist will provide an exercise program to make the tendon stronger and more flexible. If the problem is work related, an occupational therapist can advise how to prevent injuring the area again.

In very rare cases, surgery may be needed when all other treatments don’t work.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Tendinitis:

  • DO stop the activity that caused the tendinitis right away.
  • DO rest the affected area.
  • DO take your medicines as prescribed.
  • DO your exercises as prescribed.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have side effects from your medicine.
  • DO call your health care provider if the treatments don’t help the pain.
  • DON’T put ice or heat directly on the skin.
  • DON’T stop the treatment prescribed because you feel better unless your health care provider tells you to.
  • DON’T continue an exercise program that causes excessive or prolonged pain. If you get more pain, the program needs to be changed specifically for you.

Contact the following sources:

  • American College of Rheumatology
    Tel: (404) 633-3777
  • Arthritis Foundation
    Tel: (800) 283-7800
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
    Tel: (877) 226-4267

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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