Tendonitis is a condition that can cause pain and inflammation in any part of the body – and there are several types. While it usually occurs due to repetitive motions most often associated with sports or exercise, it can also develop due to age or an underlying health issue.
Let’s address some of the symptoms of tendonitis, as well as risk factors and when you should consider seeing a doctor.
Tendonitis is the most common condition that results in tendon inflammation, but there are other kinds of tendon injuries as well.1
Now, any joint in the body can be affected by tendonitis, but some of the more common areas include the elbows, knees, fingers, feet, wrists, and shoulders.
In general, tendonitis leads to stiffness and discomfort – and these symptoms are at their worst when you get up in the morning. Symptoms of tendonitis usually decrease once you get out of bed and start moving around. But some of these effects can also include weakness in the area that has been affected, as well as redness and swelling.
The symptoms you may experience will depend on the specific tendon that has become inflamed.
Here are just a few examples:
The back of the ankle, or the area where the Achilles tendon is located, is notorious for becoming inflamed. Achilles tendonitis affects the area where the calf muscle meets the heel, and is usually caused by running or jumping a great deal.3 Symptoms of tendonitis in the Achilles include stiffness and pain that are at their worst after periods of long rest, such as sleeping.
Tendonitis affecting this part of the body is usually referred to as tennis or golf elbow. Tennis elbow results in pain on the outside portion of the joint, while golf elbow leads to pain on the inside portion. Pain tends to get worse when you try to straighten or bend the elbow, and can even radiate down to the wrist in more severe cases. The elbow may stiffen and your grip might not be as strong as it was before you started experiencing problems.
This is a form of tendonitis known as de Quervain’s disease. It usually strikes the portion of the thumb that is closest to the wrist, and leads to pain that increases whenever you use the affected hand.2
There are two types of tendonitis that affect the shoulder, supraspinatus tendonitis and calcific tendonitis.4
The former results in inflammation at the top of the shoulder, and leads to pain whenever you lift your arm high or lie on the shoulder when sleeping.
The latter is due to the formation of small crystals of calcium in the shoulder. Pain can vary from mild to severe and can sometimes spread into the neck or down the arm. In some instances, it can also lead to stiffness or weakness.
The tendon that connects the muscle in the upper portion of your arm to the shoulder can develop what is known as bicep tendonitis. Pain is usually centered on the upper arm and shoulder, and is often worse when you reach over your head.
Inflammation of the knee usually means you have patellar tendonitis. It develops in the tendon that connects the shinbone with the patella, or kneecap. If you play a lot of volleyball, basketball or any other sport that requires a lot of jumping, you’ll more than likely be at a high risk of developing this condition. Swelling, pain, and redness are some of the more common symptoms.
Are You at Risk?
Even though tendonitis tends to strike people who play sports on a regular basis or exercise rigorously, it can develop no matter what your activity level may be. As all of us get older our tendons lose their flexibility, making it easier for them to become inflamed. The type of job you have could also make you more prone to a tendonitis attack.
For example, if you reach overhead a great deal, find yourself in awkward physical positions or perform the same motion over and over, then you might be at a higher risk of developing tendonitis.
In addition, if you play a certain sport, such as golf, bowling, basketball, baseball or tennis, you will also be at a higher risk.
When to See a Specialist
In most cases, your symptoms of tendonitis will gradually dissipate in a few weeks as long as you rest the affected area as much as possible.6
However, if your symptoms either don’t improve or get worse, you should see a doctor or physical therapist. You may have either ruptured a tendon, or there may be an underlying health issue that’s causing the problem. If you have a ruptured tendon you’ll probably already know it because of the sudden, sharp pain you’ll experience. This pain may be accompanied by a “snapping” sound.
You should definitely get medical help if your symptoms are accompanied by a fever, significant swelling or redness, or you are unable to move the area where tendonitis has developed.
What to Expect When You See a Doctor
In most cases, your specialist will quickly be able to diagnose tendonitis by performing an examination and asking about the symptoms of tendonitis that you’re experiencing. He or she may want to take an x-ray, have an ultrasound, or order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test performed to be sure.
Treatments will be conservative at first, typically consisting of rest and over-the-counter pain medications such as Aleve or Advil.
Your doctor might suggest that you apply ice to the area a few times a day to reduce discomfort. Wrap some ice or a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel and place it on the problem spot for about 10-15 minutes at a time, five or six times a day.
If conservative treatments don’t work, then your doctor might suggest a corticosteroid injection, sound wave therapy or physical therapy. While rare, there are certain instances where surgery will be needed to address the problem.
If you notice continued pain in a joint or in a muscle, there’s a chance it could be tendonitis. Please don’t ignore this discomfort. Get to a doctor and see what needs to be done so that you can once again live life to the fullest.