Tendons are fibrous bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. They slide back and forth when muscles are contracted or when joints are in motion. Tendonitis is defined as an inflammation or irritation of a tendon that can cause stiffness, swelling and pain. Body parts most commonly affected are shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and ankles. It usually disappears within a few weeks to a few months.
The most common causes of tendonitis are injury and overuse of a joint due to repetitive movements at work or play. Improper repetitive movements as well as inadequate footwear or equipment can also be responsible for causing tendonitis. Adults and the elderly are more likely to suffer from tendonitis due to the wear and tear of tendons. Rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes may also predispose individuals to tendonitis.
The main symptom associated with tendonitis is pain. Stiffness and mild swelling may also be present. Pain is made worse by movement. Range of motion may also be restricted.
If one continues to use the injured joint as before, the healing process will be much longer and tendonitis may become chronic. It can also permanently damage the tissues that make up the tendon and eventually cause it to tear.
The patient's medical history and a physical examination are generally enough for a physician to make a diagnosis. The doctor may request a radiography to make sure that the bones are not affected. He may also recommend an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to take a closer look at the condition of the tendon. And lastly, if arthritis is suspected, blood tests may prove useful.
The main objectives when treating tendonitis is to eliminate the pain and reduce the inflammation. In most cases, treatment is simple and involves resting the joint, applying ice and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (Aspirin®, Motrin®, Advil®). Physiotherapy, with ultrasound treatments and strength-building exercises can be beneficial but should be discontinued if the pain continues or worsens. In more severe cases, the doctor may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatories. If the pain persists, a corticosteroid may be injected directly into the joint. This will help alleviate the pain for several weeks. If the tendon is torn, surgery may be required.
The key to preventing tendonitis or any other physical injury is to warm up before engaging in any physical activity and to stretch afterwards.