Dealing with tendonitis

Tendons are the bands of tissue that attach muscle to bone within the body, and are key to helping the bones and joints move as the muscles contract. When a tendon becomes inflamed or painful, it is commonly described as tendonitis, and the condition can seriously affect movement as well as being extremely uncomfortable.


Pic: Getty

What causes tendonitis?
The condition is often caused by either injury to the tendon, perhaps while playing a sport, or overuse. For example, those who play sports that involve throwing or racquets often injure their tendons, and similarly, repetitive strain caused by daily use of a computer mouse, can result in tendonitis.

In some cases, the tendon is covered by a protective sheath, lined with a membrane that contains synovial fluid for movement and to minimise friction. A tear in the tissue or deterioration of the tendon itself will also cause pain.

Pain is often the first noticeable symptom, and it will generally be worse when you move the affected area. Swelling is also common, sometimes accompanied by heat or redness, and some sufferers report a grating sensation when moving the painful area, as well as weakness. Some also develop a lump along the tendon itself.

Tendonitis most commonly occurs in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, finger, thigh, knee or the back of the heel.

In many cases tendon pain can be treated simply by stopping the exercise or activity that cause the symptoms for a few days. Rest will often see the pain reduce, while over-the-counter painkillers or an ice pack applied to the affected area will alleviate the symptoms. The time it takes for the tendon to heal varies greatly, but it is important to rest in order to reduce the inflammation and prevent further damage.

However, sometimes the pain is more persistent and requires further treatment. Physiotherapy, where the affected area is massaged and manipulated to improve movement and function, can help to stretch and strengthen the tendon, and lead to long-term improvement.

Corticosteroid injected directly to the affected tendon is sometimes used to reduce inflammation, but the pain often returns, and having more than three such injections to the same area within a year increases the risk of the tendon rupturing.

Tendonitis rarely requires surgery, but it is an option where other methods have failed.

If you have previously had problems with tendonitis, you will quickly recognise the pain associated with the condition, and therefore should you feel pain when undertaking a particular task, it is essential to take regular breaks. You are well within your rights to ask your employer to grant you regular rest periods, but it is also important that you are taking the proper precautions to prevent tendonitis yourself.

For instance, if your job involves using a computer all day, make sure that you are properly seated, with your arms at a right angle from the elbow, in order not to put unnecessary strain on your tendons when using the keyboard or mouse.

Similarly, if you play a lot of sport, warming up and cooling down properly will help to keep the tendons in tip top condition, while exercising the affected area will strengthen the muscles around the tendon and help to prevent problems in the future. If you are unsure about how to do this but have experienced pain in the past, a physiotherapist will be able to advise on the best exercises for your particular problem area.

Have you had problems with tendonitis, and how have you dealt with the pain? Leave your comments below...