What is tendonitis?

A tendon is a band or cord, which connects a muscle to a bone. Tendons are very smooth and strong, but through repetitive overuse, or with advancing age, they can become worn and weak. When a tendon becomes inflamed the medical name given to the condition is tendonitis.

'The wrist tendons connect the forearm muscles to the finger bones'.

What causes it?

Tendonitis can be caused by three things: over-use of a tendon, injury or ageing. In a small number of cases, it can be associated with other inflammatory diseases that attack the bones and joints in the body, such as rheumatoid arthritis or Lupus.

One of the most common forms of tendonitis among people who engage in high-impact sports is Achilles tendonitis, which is inflammation of the tendon connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of tendonitis are pain and stiffness. Symptoms may be more acute at night, or after vigorous exercise. There may also be swelling and tenderness in the affected area.

How is it diagnosed?

Tendonitis is usually diagnosed on the basis of the history and physical signs. An MRI scan can reveal any weakening of the tendon itself or changes in the tendon sheath or covering however, due to the high cost of this specialised examination it is not routinely performed.

What is the treatment?

Although anti-inflammatory drugs may be administered to reduce swelling and inflammation, the most important form of treatment for tendonitis is: rest, ice, immobilise and elevate. Tendonitis will get worse with continued use of the inflamed tendon, so rest is vital. Temporary use of a splint may also help to rest the tendon.

For those engaged in sport, it may be useful to get some form of physical therapy such as massage or ultrasound for the affected area. Exercises which stretch and strengthen the muscles are also helpful.

In repeated cases of chronic tendonitis, surgery may be considered.

Are there long-term effects?

Tendonitis can recur with a return to physical activity, and prolonged bouts of this painful condition can lead to rupture of the tendon itself. Those who suffer from tendonitis on a regular basis should avoid taking part in any form of exercise, which is based on excessive repetitive motions. This would include high-impact aerobics, stepping, skipping or running on a hard surface.

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