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Tendonitis – Get the Facts and Get it Fixed

Tendonitis (or tendinitis) is defined as inflammation or irritation of a tendon – the thick, fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone.  Most people will develop this painful condition during the course of their lives, although many may not understand what the pain actually indicates.  This article will focus on causes, symptoms, and treatment of tendonitis. 

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Although tendonitis can be caused by a single, severe injury, it is more likely to be caused by repetitive movements over time.  For this reason, certain people are at higher risk for tendonitis than others.  Individuals whose jobs may require frequent similar movements, such as twisting your wrist or reaching overhead, are more likely to develop tendonitis in the elbow or shoulder.  The same can be said for athletes, particularly those who play one-sided sports such as baseball, tennis, golf, or bowling.  These actions over time can cause small tears in the tendon, causing inflammation to pool in that area.  The elderly are also at risk for tendonitis because as we age our tendons tend to become less flexible and are more likely to become damaged. 

The most obvious sign and symptom of tendonitis is a dull, achy pain where the tendon inserts on the bone, especially when moving the affected joint.  Common areas to experience this pain include the inside or outside of the elbow, directly below the kneecap, on the outside of the upper arm just below the shoulder, on the back of the heel, or on the wrist near the base of the thumb.  The affected area may also become swollen, and will most likely be very tender to the touch.  Weakness in the affected muscle is likely to be experienced if the tendon has been inflamed for a number of weeks or months.  

To treat tendonitis, we need to first make sure we are addressing the cause.  Taking an over-the-counter pain or anti-inflammatory medication may decrease the pain, but it will do nothing to fix the damaged tissue or prevent it from getting worse.  If the injury is a result of a repetitive movement, it is important to ease up on that activity for a while and make sure your technique is correct to allow the tendon to heal.  Although rest is important, you cannot allow the area to be completely inactive for a prolonged period.  Too much inactivity in an area can result in stiffness in your joints, moving the problem from one area to another.  A great exercise to heal tendonitis while keeping the muscle active is an eccentric contraction, meaning the muscle is contracting while being lengthened.  An example of eccentric contractions in the bicep would be to hold a light weight with the bicep shortened (hand near shoulder) and allow the weighted hand to lower slowly, lengthening the bicep.  Diet can also play a role in speeding up the healing process of tendonitis.  Processed foods high in sugar and flour cause systemic inflammation, meaning inflammation in the arteries and blood vessels that affect the entire body.  If an individual has high levels of systemic inflammation along with an inflamed and irritated tendon, it is like pouring gasoline on the fire. 

Soft tissue injuries such as tendonitis are very common and should not be ignored.  If you think the pain that you are experiencing may be a result of tendonitis, ask how we can help!

Yours in Health, Dr. Alex

Project Wellness Company - Madison, WI