A tendon is a band of strong tissue that connects muscle to bone. It is an important part of the musculoskeletal system, which gives us the ability to move. 

What is tendonitis?

Tendonitis is a general term referring to pain and weakness localized to tendons. In medicine, the suffix “-itis” usually indicates inflammation. In the case of tendonitis, there may be inflammation around the tendon, but the term itself may be slightly inaccurate.

Often it is more likely a result of excessive microtrauma, degeneration, or ineffective healing response at a tendon, and could more accurately be called “tendinopathy” rather than tendonitis.

What are the signs of tendonitis?

The classic signs of tendonitis are associated with activity and overuse and include: 

  • pain or discomfort
  • weakness
  • swelling

Common names and sites of tendonitis

While tendonitis can occur anywhere in the body, it is most common in the following areas:

  • Elbow - The elbow is a common site of tendonitis. When it occurs on the outside of the elbow it is known as tennis elbow. Golfer’s elbow occurs when it affects the tendon on the inside of the elbow closer to the body.
  • Heel - When tendonitis occurs in the tendon above the heel bone, it is commonly known as Achilles tendonitis.
  • Wrist - Tendonitis in the wrist typically occurs on the thumb side of the wrist and is commonly known as De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. 
  • Knee - Commonly known as jumper’s knee, the patella tendon just below the kneecap is affected.
  • Shoulder - When the tendon to the rotator cuff in the shoulder is affected, it is also known as swimmer’s shoulder. 

Treating tendonitis

It is important to see a doctor for treatment of tendonitis. Treatment typically includes:

  • using a brace to immobilize the affected area, allowing the tendon to rest 
  • gentle stretching of the tendon and attached muscle 
  • eccentric strengthening exercises (exercises designed to stretch and strengthen at the same time)

In the majority of cases, injections and surgery are not necessary. Steroid injections may have a role when tendonitis occurs in certain locations but can be dangerous in others. Other treatments through the skin may be available and can be discussed with a sports medicine specialist. Finally, surgical treatments may be appropriate for individuals with chronic cases who have not seen improvement with any of the above treatments.

What causes tendonitis?

Tendonitis is not fully understood. It is believed that there are conditions which can lead to tendonitis, including:

  • poor blood supply in tendons
  • abnormal healing response
  • overuse activity 

Can tendonitis be prevented?

The following are believed to help in preventing tendonitis: 

  • Be sure to warm up before exercise and stretch afterward.
  • Get rest in between workouts to allow your muscles and tendons to heal.
  • Gradually increase your activity.

Tendonitis treatment

If you are experiencing signs of tendonitis, our team at the Lifespan Orthopedics Institute can help. 

Joseph Gil, MD, Raymond Hsu, MD, and Brett Owens, MD

Joseph Gil, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon with the Lifespan Orthopedics Institute, specializing in the hand and upper extremity.

Raymond Hsu, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon with the Lifespan Orthopedics Institute, specializing in the foot and ankle

Brett Owens, MD, is an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon with the Lifespan Orthopedics Institute, specializing in the knee and shoulder and complex sports injuries.