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What Is Tendinitis? An Overview

04/07/2022 | 5 min. read

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What is tendinitis, and how can it impact your life? The musculoskeletal system is incredibly complex and amazing. When it is working correctly, it keeps your body moving as freely and pain-free as possible. When there are problems with any part of that system, the result can drastically impact your day-to-day life. Tendinitis is one of those problems. 

With the help of our healthcare experts, we will give you all of the information you need to understand tendinitis. We’ll also look at ways to prevent the condition and what to expect in terms of treatment options and potential outcomes. 

What Is Tendinitis?

Tendinitis, sometimes referred to as tendonitis or overuse tendinopathy, is a medical condition that happens to the tendons. The thick, tough, fibrous tissue of the tendons is essential to helping connect muscle to bone. Tendons also help transmit a muscle contraction to the skeletal system around the joints, triggering movement. 

When the tendons are working, you likely do not notice them at all. However, when there is a problem, it can cause significant issues throughout the body. When dealing with tendinitis, which is essentially the inflammation of the tendon, the main symptoms are swelling, tenderness, and pain, often in the elbows, knees, and wrists.

This condition affects around three million people in the United States every year, making it very common (especially in those between 35 and 50).

Tendinitis vs. Tendinosis

It is crucial to distinguish tendinitis from another similar-sounding issue — tendinosis. In most cases, the main difference between the two is time. 

While it can become a chronic issue, tendinitis is most often something that happens acutely. 

On the other hand, tendinosis is a chronic health condition that results from a damaged tendon, and the way the collagen they are composed of begins to deteriorate.

Even though both tendinitis and tendinosis are medical conditions that happen to the tendons, the methods of treating them can vary significantly. 

What Causes Tendinitis?

While tendinitis can happen to any tendon on the body at any time, it is far more likely to occur to joints that are under repeated stress. Often, that stress happens as the result of a job or hobby. 

Have you heard of tennis elbow? When you subject a joint (and its connecting tendon) to the same repetitions of movement over and over, eventually, inflammation will result. 

With that in mind, here are a few of the more common types of tendinitis:

  • Golfer’s elbow: Caused by the repetitive hand gripping and wrist turning of swinging a golf club, golfer’s elbow involves an injury to the inner tendon of the elbow. 
  • Jumper’s knee: This type of tendinitis is common among those who play sports that involve jumping, like basketball or volleyball. When the tendon in the knee is subjected to repeated stress, it is more likely to develop inflammation or tear.
  • Swimmer’s shoulder: Also known as rotator cuff tendinitis, swimmer’s shoulder happens when the shoulder undergoes repetitive joint rotation. The same risk factors are present in pitcher’s shoulder.
  • Achilles tendinitis: The heels are also capable of developing tendinitis. Achilles tendinitis happens most frequently to runners who have recently increased the length or intensity of their runs. 

In addition to repetitive motion, other triggers may include diabetes, gout, infection, and rheumatoid arthritis complications.

How Is Tendinitis Diagnosed and Treated?

Unfortunately, the answer to “what is tendinitis?” does not solve the problem. 

To begin treating this often painful issue, you need to start with a visit to your health care provider. They will usually start by taking a complete medical history and a physical exam to identify the source and intensity of the pain. 

From there, your provider may order imaging to either confirm or rule out tendinitis. Most commonly, this involves either an x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI). 

If you are diagnosed with tendinitis, your health care provider will discuss your options. Some cases can be successfully managed with NSAIDs and other over-the-counter medications like aspirin, ibuprofen. In more advanced cases, your provider may recommend corticosteroid injections directly into the affected tendon or surgery. 

However, regardless of how your tendinitis is treated, the number one recommendation is rest. Depending on where the impacted tendon is located, this rest may be part of a “RICE” protocol. RICE stands for rest (especially activities that trigger pain or swelling), ice (to the impacted area), compression (to reduce swelling), and elevation (above the level of the heart, if possible). 

How Long Does Tendinitis Take To Heal?

The amount of time it takes for tendinitis to heal is related to its severity and location on the body. Catching it early before it has an opportunity to become a chronic issue can also reduce the length of time that you have to deal with it. Once tendinitis becomes a more chronic problem, it can take significantly longer to treat. 

Because of the different factors involved in diagnosing and treating tendinitis, every case is unique and requires a unique approach. 

In some more minor, acute cases, you may see relief in as little as six weeks. 

For more severe or chronic tendinitis cases, it may take three to six months of treatment before you heal. 

Luckily, healthcare professionals believe that around 80% of people dealing with tendinitis will eventually make a full recovery.  

In Summary

What is tendinitis? In addition to being painful, the inflammation that can happen to a tendon can also put a halt to your day-to-day life. Even just getting out of bed or walking to the mailbox can become a chore. 

While any pain should be evaluated by your health care provider, knowing the basics behind what may trigger this issue can be incredibly helpful. 

For all of your health and wellness questions, turn to the experts at Healthy Directions. We would love to walk with you on your path toward optimal health. You can count on us to help you on your way.

Explore more articles that answer your health questions by checking out our blog here

Sources:

Difference Between Tendinitis and Tendinosis | Cleveland Clinic

Tendinitis Symptoms, Causes & Treatment | NIAMS 

Common Overuse Tendon Problems: A Review and Recommendations for Treatment | American Family Physician (aafp.org)

Healthy Directions Staff Editor