How to Treat Tendinitis & Keep It from Recurring

10/05/2017 | 4 min. read

Dr. Joseph Pergolizzi

Dr. Joseph Pergolizzi

If you’re plagued with pain, tenderness, and swelling in your elbow after a few sets of tennis (tennis elbow) or in your knees after a round of golf, you may be experiencing tendinitis. It’s an inflammation or irritation of the tendon, the fibrous connective tissue that connects muscle to bone.

Why Does Tendinitis Happen?

Tendinitis is most often caused by repetitive overuse – like a butcher, for example, who may have problems with the wrist, fingers or elbow, or a delivery person who may wind up with tendinitis in the knee. Other activities that can cause tendinitis include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Gardening,
  • Raking leaves,
  • Carpentry,
  • Painting,
  • Bowling.

Tendinitis is also common in adults who play sports, particularly so-called “weekend warriors” who play and exercise hard only Saturdays and Sundays.

But exercise and repetitive motion are not the only ways tendinitis becomes a problem. People who have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, or thyroid disorders are at risk for tendon inflammation – and also need to know how to treat tendonitis.

How To Treat Tendinitis

Most cases of tendinitis can be treated with a few simple steps:

1. Rest: The first step in how to treat tendinitis is to avoid activities that would aggravate the problem. Rest the affected area and apply ice if the injury occurred within the last 48 hours. After that, heat may be a better option. You can also immobilize or wrap the area in a compression bandage until the swelling goes down.

2. Topical Rubs: A topical pain reliever like Instaflex Pain Relief Cream is an excellent first-line therapy in how to treat tendinitis. You can apply it on the affected area as often as four times a day.

3. Topical NSAIDS: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) deliver the medication right to the area that needs it, but doesn’t enter your system. Because of that feature, topical pain relievers have fewer potential side effects.

4. Oral NSAIDS: NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and prescription versions, can reduce pain and inflammation. NSAIDs, however, are associated with some side effects and are not appropriate for everyone. For example, they may cause an upset stomach in some people.  Long-term use of oral NSAIDs may have other more serious side effects. For example, NSAID therapy may increase your risk for cardiovascular side effects.

As a rule, even if NSAIDs are appropriate for you I recommend you take the lowest possible dose that relieves pain for the shortest amount of time. Never take more NSAIDs than indicated on the label unless you are specifically advised to do so by your physician.

5. Physical Therapy: In considering how to treat tendinitis, physical therapy can be helpful for many people—especially those with “frozen shoulder.” Physical therapy for frozen shoulder, for example, can include range-of-motion exercises, splinting of the forearm or thumb, or a sling.

6. Corticosteroid Injections: If therapy with rest, immobilization, and anti-inflammatory agents have proven ineffective, your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections. The corticosteroid (e.g., triamcinolone) is often combined with a local anesthetic, such as lidocaine, to provide prompt pain relief.

As you are allowing your body to rest and recover, you might also want to consider what you’re eating and how foods can help heal—or even prevent — tendinitis pain and flare-ups.

Foods that Ease Tendinitis

Some nutrients that you can find in foods may help ease symptoms of tendinitis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin C, for example, may help to reduce inflammation and boost the body’s ability to heal. So, consistently incorporate vitamin C-rich foods into your diet, including:

  • Papaya,
  • Bell peppers,
  • Broccoli,
  • Oranges,
  • Grapefruit,
  • Brussels sprouts,
  • Tomatoes,
  • Cantaloupe,
  • Kiwi,
  • Cauliflower,
  • Tomatoes.

While people do not often think of it as a vitamin-rich food, green tea contains more vitamin C than a medium-sized orange and contains other healthful antioxidants.

Another nutrient that can ease inflammation is bromelain, an enzyme that comes from pineapples. It may increase the risk of bleeding, however, so anyone who takes anticoagulants or aspirin should not take bromelain without first talking to their doctor. Plus, people with stomach ulcers should avoid bromelain. Finally, whole grains offer an array of vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants, which support the body's ability to heal and resist infection. The more healthful foods you eat consistently, the better your body will function and the more quickly it will heal.

How Long Will It Take for Tendinitis to Get Better?

In considering how to treat tendinitis, it’s important to know it may take weeks, or even months, for tendinitis to go away depending on the severity of your injury. If the condition does not show signs of improvement in a week, see your doctor as you may need more advanced treatment like physical therapy.

With proper treatment, the affected tendon usually recovers completely. Tendinitis often comes back, however, especially for athletes and people whose work requires repetitive motions. Surgery is only rarely needed for severe problems not responding to other treatments, or in the case of a rupture of the tendon.

Dr. Joseph Pergolizzi

Meet Dr. Joseph Pergolizzi

Dr. Joseph Pergolizzi is an internationally recognized expert in pain medicine who has spent much of his career studying what pain is, why it occurs, and how best to treat it. That experience has led him to believe strongly that there are often ways to relieve or manage pain which are overlooked or discounted, and that the most effective treatment approaches are always multi-modal.

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