Tendonitis is a condition that occurs when tendons become inflamed. Tendons are strong cords of tissue that link bones to muscles and enable joints to move. If they or the surrounding tissues are damaged, it can be very painful. Tendonitis is often caused by strain or overuse of the tendon, or by an injury. Repetitive strain injury from activities such as typing can result in enough tendon damage to cause tendonitis, but it can also happen as a result of more dramatic, one-off injuries, often the result of playing sports.
Sometimes the inflammation affects the protective sheath that surrounds some tendons, rather than the tendons themselves, and this can be linked to rheumatoid arthritis. People who have diabetes can also be at higher risk of tendonitis, although it the reasons why are not fully understood.
The main symptoms of tendonitis are pain and inflammation in the joint around the affected tendon. The area may become red and swollen, and there could also be a grating sensation as the joint moves. The joint can feel weaker or be less mobile than normal, and it is sometimes possible to feel a lump along the tendon, or a gap if the tendon has ruptured.
Tendonitis can affect many parts of the body, but is particularly common in the shoulders, elbows, hands, knees, thighs, and feet. The symptoms will often go away after several days, particularly if the affected joint is rested, but in some cases they can last longer.
If you are experiencing pain that does not go away after you have rested the affected joint, it is advisable to visit your doctor in order to find out what is causing the problem. Many different conditions can affect the joints, so your GP will want to conduct a physical examination and ask questions about your symptoms.
An ultrasound scan may be needed to confirm the diagnosis in some cases, but the examination is usually sufficient. Your doctor can advise you on how to take care of your injury as it heals, but they may need to refer you on to a rheumatologist for extra treatment if the pain is very persistent or the damage is severe.
In most cases, the treatment of tendonitis will only require some basic home care. The affected joint needs to be rested and the activity that caused the injury should be stopped. Icing the area can help to relieve the pain and swelling, and painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can be taken if necessary.
If these methods don't work, or if the symptoms persist longer than a few days, additional treatment may be needed. A rheumatologist can prescribe stronger painkillers or administer corticosteroid injections, while a physiotherapist may be able to recommend some exercises or other techniques to help the joint heal. In particularly severe cases, when the pain does not go away over time, surgery may be needed to help relieve the pain. This is most likely to happen with injuries such as tennis elbow or Achilles tendinopathy.