Tendonitis (also known as tendinitis) is a general term used to describe inflammation associated with a tendon. Tendons connect muscles to bone, and inflammation of these rope-like tissues is the most common cause of soft-tissue pain. Tendonitis differs from arthritis, which refers to inflammation of a joint. Common areas for the condition include the shoulder (which involves inflammation at one of the tendons of the rotator cuff), the elbow (tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow), the wrist, the knee (above and below the kneecap), the back of the ankle (Achilles tendonitis) and the foot.
The onset of tendonitis can usually be attributed to overuse of the associated area, but can also occur in areas where calcium deposits have developed. As we grow older, repetitive motion can injure the tendon where it attaches to the bone, promoting an inflammatory response by the body. This inflammation can cause “pain on motion,” swelling, warmth, tenderness, and redness. This latter symptom is called “erythema” and refers to the dilation of the blood’s capillaries as part of the inflammatory process.
The first line of treatment for tendonitis involves the “RICE” protocol, which stands for “rest, ice, compression and elevation.” Methods of treating recurring tendonitis differ for the various locations in the body, and can include:
In the most severe cases, where nonsurgical treatments do not lead to good outcomes, surgical procedures can be used to realign tendons, remove bone spurs that are causing pressure on tendons, and to remove areas of calcium buildup. In some cases, persistent tendon inflammation combined with overuse – especially of the Achilles tendon or shoulder rotator cuff tendons – may lead to weakening and subsequent rupture of the tendon. Once a tendon has become irreversibly damaged or has ruptured, treatment options (and ultimate outcomes) are often very limited.
It is very important not to neglect persistent tendonitis and to rely on rheumatologic and orthopedic specialists to properly diagnose and treat the condition. Surgical intervention by an experienced orthopedist may be indicated to avoid ongoing unresponsive symptoms, particularly when the tendon is at risk of tearing or rupture.