What is tendonitis?

Athlete sitting on bleachers in contemplation

Tendons are the thick, strong cords that connect our muscles to our bones. When they become overused, it can lead to things like inflammation or irritation. This condition is known as tendonitis. Any tendon can develop tendonitis, but you’re more likely to develop it in your shoulder, knee, elbow, heel, or wrist. It can cause acute pain in the affected joint, making it difficult to move.

What causes tendonitis?

The most common cause of tendinitis is repetitive action. Because tendons help us make certain movements, sometimes when we play sports or repetitively move our joints, the tendon becomes irritated and swollen.

Risk factors for developing tendonitis3:

The risk factors for developing tendinitis include age, working in particular jobs, or participating in certain sports.

  • Age: As people get older, their tendons become less flexible — which makes them easier to injure.
  • Occupations: Tendonitis is more common in people whose jobs involve repetitive motions.
  • Sports: Sports that involve repetitive motion like baseball, bowling, golf, running, and tennis.

What are the signs of tendonitis?

The pain from tendonitis is typically a dull ache that is concentrated around the affected area. The affected joint usually feels worse with movement and the area will be tender to the touch. You may also have some swelling. Other symptoms vary according to which tendon is affected2:

  • Rotator cuff tendonitis: Usually dull, aching shoulder pain that can’t be tied to one location. It often radiates into the upper arm toward the chest. The pain is often worse at night and may interfere with sleep.
  • Tennis elbow: Pain in the outer side of the elbow. In some cases, the painful area extends down to the forearm and wrist.
  • Golfer’s elbow: Pain in the inner side of the elbow
  • Jumper’s knee: Pain below the kneecap and, sometimes, above it

How do you treat tendonitis?

Treatment for tendonitis focusing on reducing pain and inflammation in the tendon. Some basic home remedies include:

Resting the area. This means temporarily stopping activities that use the affected joint. If the original cause of the tendonitis was a sports injury then you’ll need to take a brief hiatus from playing. If the cause is a work injury, then you’ll likely need to speak to your employer to see what temporary accommodations can be made while your tendonitis heals.

Apply ice (or heat). Applying ice to the joint will reduce swelling and inflammation and ease the pain. Some people may find pain relief by alternating between hot and cold treatment.

Pain relief. Medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and the anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin (Bayer), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) may be especially helpful in the first few days.

If your condition doesn’t improve after a few days of rest or gets worse then make an appointment to see your doctor.

Preventing tendonitis

If you’re at high risk of developing tendonitis (see above) then consider using some of the following tips to reduce your chances of developing it3:

  • Keep physically fit and build your muscle tone.
  • If you are an athlete, then cross-train. This means getting exercise by using a different mix of activities such as running, gym-workouts, biking, and swimming. Different sports use different muscle groups.
  • Make sure your diet is high in nutrients like calcium and vitamin D which help to build and protect bone strength.
  • Use proper posture when working at a desk or doing other tasks.
  • Don’t remain in the same position for too long. Move around periodically.
  • Use proper equipment at work and during athletic activities.


With proper treatment, the affected tendon usually recovers completely. However, don’t rush back to the work or athletics which caused the injury in the first place. Incomplete rehabilitation or a hasty return to activity can slow the healing process or lead to re-injury.

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1- Healthline. What Causes Tendon Inflammation? Written by Ann Pietrangelo. Medically reviewed by Gregory Minnis. July 3, 2017.

2- Drugs.com. Harvard Health. Tendonitis. https://www.drugs.com/health-guide/tendonitis.html

3- Mayo clinic. Tendinitis. Nov. 14, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tendinitis/basics/risk-factors/con-20020309

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