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Tendonitis: Symptoms, Causes, and How You Can Treat or Prevent It

Man holding knee in pain

Tendonitis is a fairly common problem. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, tendonitis causes more than 70,000 people to miss work per year. It is important to understand its symptoms and treatment so that you can avoid this painful condition.

What is Tendonitis?

A tendon is a thick rope-like cord that attaches a bone to a muscle. Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon, most commonly caused by overuse. It manifests through pain at the site of the injured tendon. The pain may be chronic or it may come on suddenly and feel sharp. According to Dr. Joseph Feinberg, physiatrist at HSS, “Tendonitis can be confused with a muscle strain. The way to distinguish between the two is that with a muscle strain, the pain is felt in the muscle itself, whereas in tendonitis, the pain is felt near where the muscle attaches to the bone.”

Who gets Tendonitis?

Although tendonitis can occur at any age, it is more common in adults over 40 years of age. As tendons age, they tolerate less stress and are less flexible.

Where does Tendonitis occur?

Tendonitis can occur at almost any site of the body where a tendon connects a bone to a muscle.

Some common names that indicate frequent sites for tendon problems are:

How is Tendonitis treated?

The quicker your tendonitis is treated, the sooner you’ll be on your way to recovering full strength and flexibility. Dr. Steve Lee,  hand and upper extremity surgeon at HSS, says, “Tendonitis is common and usually responds to non-surgical care. Surgery is sometimes needed and can be helpful in select cases.” Most cases of tendonitis can be successfully treated with rest, ice, compression (a sleeve or wrap), stretching, modification of activities and elevation of the injured tendon. Avoiding activities or movements that aggravate the site of the pain and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain are usually recommended. If pain does not improve in a few days, see your doctor, who may prescribe physical therapy to work on the flexibility and strength of the involved tendon, and possibly modify mechanics (how one performs the physical activity). Additionally, a corticosteroid injection may be offered to decrease the pain. As a last resort, if the symptoms are not resolved, surgical options may be necessary.

How do I prevent Tendonitis from returning?

It is important not to go back to exercise until the symptoms have resolved. Your physical therapist or physician can recommend proper stretching and strengthening techniques. They may also modify your biomechanics (how you perform the activity). Other tips include:

  • Always warm up before beginning strenuous exercise.
  • Take breaks to relieve stress on your tendons by varying your workouts and not performing one activity for hours at a time.
  • Protect the tendons when returning to the task or sport. For example, wear a wrist splint while gardening or using the computer, or a knee strap while playing sports

Be careful about the “no pain, no gain” approach. It can be difficult to distinguish between an ache that indicates you are building strength and an ache that means you have injured a tendon. The Health Video Library is a free service offered to the HSS community where you will find playlists of streaming videos focusing on your unique health needs. Topics cover active and aging adults; bone health; pain and stress management; inflammatory arthritis; osteoarthritis; and your health and wellness.

HSS Education Institute’s Public & Patient Education Department (PPED) offers programming on musculoskeletal conditions and other health and wellness topics for patients and the general public through community lectures, workshops, outreach programs, injury prevention programs, exercise classes, publications, and digital programming.

HSS HealthConnection Fast Facts, produced by the Education Institute’s Public & Patient Education Department, is a convenient resource designed to provide the public with fast, current and accurate musculoskeletal and general health information.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.