How Do You Know You Have It? What Can You Do?
If you live a busy and active life, you occasionally have aches and pains. But sometimes, those pains don’t simply go away; instead, they start to interfere with your normal life or even get worse. You may have tendonitis or overuse tendinopathy.
What Is Tendonitis?
A tendon is connective tissue that holds or connects muscle to bone. It’s similar to a ligament, but ligaments connect bone to bone. When the tendon becomes irritated or inflamed, that’s known as tendonitis. Tendonitis may be caused by a traumatic injury but more often is the result of overuse or repetitive motion or stress. Tendonitis is often associated with certain types of athletic activities, such as tennis and golf (elbow), baseball and football (shoulder and knee), basketball (knee), and swimming (shoulder).
Tendonitis usually appears as a dull ache, particularly when using the inflamed tendons. You also may notice tenderness, tingling, or swelling.
Responding to Tendonitis
When you develop tendonitis, it’s critical to give the affected areas time to heal. Accordingly, the first course of action is to avoid the activities causing irritation. One of the most common treatment modalities employs the acronym “RICE”:
- Rest—To the extent possible, minimize activities that use the affected area.
- Ice—An ice bath or ice pack on the inflamed area can reduce swelling. Don’t ice for more than 20 minutes at a time, but you can ice several times a day.
- Compression—You also can keep swelling down with compression wraps or bandages.
- Elevation—One of the best ways to reduce swelling is to keep the affected area above your heart.
There are pharmaceutical products that can help reduce swelling, such as anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen) and corticosteroids (typically injected), but they don’t address what’s causing tendonitis in the first place.
Strategies for Preventing Tendonitis
If you start to experience inflammation, that’s typically a sign to take some time off from whatever activity is causing the problem. If you still want to be active, try other activities that don’t use the affected areas. For example, if you’re experiencing tendonitis in your wrists or elbows, try running or soccer.
Stretching is almost always good for tendonitis. Do it gently, though, and do it after the activity, when your muscles are warmed up.
You also may want to look at ways to change your technique. For sports-related injuries, consider getting a lesson from a professional. If it comes from working at a keyboard, find someone to do an ergonomic assessment.