Have you ever been playing tennis or golf, and during that initial swing you feel a sharp pain in your shoulder or elbow? While typing on the keyboard at work does your wrist suddenly become stiff and tender to the touch? The pain you are feeling could be from tendinitis.
Tendinitis (sometimes spelled “tendonitis”) is a common condition that is an inflammation or breakdown of the tendons, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR).
Tendons are cord-like structures that attach muscles to bones and are made up of many fibers. Dr. Christopher Hughes, an Advocate Medical Group family medicine physician at Advocate Eureka Hospital in Eureka, Ill., states that tendinitis often involves the rotator cuff (shoulder), wrist, knee, foot, or ankle.
“Tendinitis can occur from overuse of a particular tendon, generally seen in workers or recreational athletes over the age of 35,” says Dr. Hughes.
Some common causes include:
- Typing for long hours or poor posture while using a keyboard
- Chopping, cutting, or sawing repeatedly
- Using a backhand while playing tennis (tennis elbow)
- Wearing incorrect running shoes or improper training before sports
Inflammation, tenderness and pain around a joint can occur suddenly and last for days, according to the Arthritis Foundation. With treatment and rest, the pain can lessen, but that area is likely to become irritated if overuse occurs again.
Generally, “proper treatment takes months and requires patience from both the provider and patient,” says Dr. Hughes. Every case of tendinitis is different.
Dr. Hughes lists common treatments that may lessen the pain:
- Activity modification: Patients must discontinue the activity that caused the problem in the first place. This is often difficult with work-related injuries, but a necessary component of treatment.
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories: Initially, naproxen or ibuprofen can be helpful, but are not recommended to use for more than seven days. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can provide effective pain control and is safer for long-term use.
- Ice or heat: These can be used in addition to other treatments. There is no evidence to support one over the other.
- Physical therapy: Generally, patients seek help after having problems for weeks or months, so a physical therapy program that involves a combination of strengthening and stretching of the tendon is a necessary treatment.
- Surgery: Rarely, surgery is an option and is decided on by a specialist. “In my 15 years of private practice, I cannot recall one patient who had to undergo surgery to remove a diseased tendon,” says Dr. Hughes.
“Patients need to be continually reminded that the problem will get better,” says Dr. Hughes. “Time allows the tendon to properly heal, but unfortunately that is the most challenging component of treatment.”