What is tendon injury (tendinopathy)?

Tendon injury (tendinopathy): Overview

Tendons are tough, flexible tissues that connect muscle to bone. A tendon can hurt or get torn from overuse or aging, especially tendons in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, or ankle. Tendon injuries may be called tendinopathy or tendinitis. Tendon injuries can occur from any motion you have to repeat in a job, sports, or daily activities. Tennis elbow is one common tendon injury.

You can treat most tendon problems with over-the-counter pain medicine, rest, changes in your activities, and physical therapy.

Tendon injury (tendinopathy)

A tendon injury is a condition in which you have irritated or damaged the tough fibers that connect muscle to bone. Most tendon injuries occur near joints, like the shoulder, elbow, knee, or ankle.

Doctors may use different terms to describe a tendon injury.

  • Tendinitis means "inflammation of the tendon," but inflammation is rarely the cause of tendon pain.
  • Tendinosis or tendinopathy happens when a tendon is injured and doesn't heal as it should.

What are the symptoms of a tendon injury (tendinopathy)?

Tendinopathy usually causes pain, stiffness, and loss of strength in the affected area. The area may be tender, red, warm, or swollen. The pain may get worse when you use the tendon, and you may have more pain and stiffness during the night or when you get up in the morning.

How is a tendon injury (tendinopathy) treated?

Treatment most often starts with home care, including rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medicines. Your doctor may also suggest physical therapy. For a severe or long-lasting injury, your doctor may prescribe a brace, a splint, a sling, or crutches to allow tendons to rest and heal.

How can you help prevent a tendon injury (tendinopathy)?

To help prevent a tendon injury, you may need to make some changes to your activities. Try changing what you do or how you do it. For example, if running caused the injury, try swimming some days. Or get advice on your technique. Always take time to warm up before and stretch after you exercise.

How is a tendon injury (tendinopathy) diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your past health and your symptoms and will do a physical exam. The doctor will check for pain, tenderness, range of motion, and strength. You may be asked to show the doctor how you use tools or sports equipment.

How can you care for yourself when you have a tendon injury (tendinopathy)?

  • Rest the sore area. You may have to stop doing the activity that caused the tendon pain for a while.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the sore area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until any swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up the sore area on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Follow your doctor's advice for wearing and caring for a sling, splint, or cast. In some cases, you may wear one of these for a while to help your tendon heal.
  • Follow your doctor's advice for stretching and physical therapy. Gently move your joint through its full range of motion. This will prevent stiffness in your joint.
  • Go back to your activity slowly. Warm up before and stretch after the activity. You also can try making some changes. For example, if a sport caused your tendon pain, alternate the sport with another activity. If using a tool causes pain, switch hands or change your grip. Stop the activity if it hurts. After the activity, apply ice to prevent pain and swelling.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can slow healing. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

What causes a tendon injury (tendinopathy)?

Most tendon injuries are the result of gradual wear and tear to the tendon from overuse or aging. They are more likely in people who make the same motions over and over in their jobs, sports, or daily activities. A tendon injury can happen suddenly or little by little.

What is a tendon injury (tendinopathy)?

Tendons are the tough fibers that connect muscle to bone. A tendon injury (tendinopathy) occurs when you have irritated or damaged these fibers. The areas most often affected are the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle.

Tendon injury (tendinopathy): When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your pain gets worse.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.