People who practice repetitive motions—usually involving either a job or a sport—are at higher risk of developing tendinitis (also spelled tendonitis). This is an inflammation of the tendons that can affect any of the body’s tendons, but most commonly affects those in the arms and legs.
Our tendons are made of strong, ropy fibers of collagen that form the connective tissue attaching our muscles to our bones. The most commonly affected tendons are the tendons of the rotator cuff, the bicipital tendons, the tendons at the elbow, the patellar and popliteal tendons at the knee, the posterior tibial tendon and the Achilles tendon at the heel.
Tendinitis tends to occur if a tendon rubs over bone or if it is used continually, particularly after a period of disuse. People who only exercise hard on the weekends, for example, are prone to tendinitis. Other activities that commonly cause tendinitis include tennis, golf, skiing, raking, gardening, painting, shoveling and carpentry work. Some physical conditions can contribute to tendinitis as well. These include gout, arthritis, thyroid disorders and reactions to certain medications. A badly placed bone or joint can also contribute to the development of the condition. All of the above cause the tendon to become inflamed, causing pain and mild swelling in the area of the problem.
The most common treatment for tendinitis is rest and ice. Rest the affected tendon while you give it time to recover. Depending on exactly where the problem is, you may need to stop playing any sport that involves the painful area, reduce the amount of typing you do, etc. Using some type of support, such as an ACE bandage, can help provide added stability and keep the area immobile while the tendon heals.
Use an ice pack or cold compress on the area to help reduce pain and swelling 2 or 3 times a day for 10-20 minutes each. A bag of frozen peas works well for this. Be sure not to put the ice pack directly on your skin. Wrap it in a damp washcloth or towel first.
Your physician may suggest taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling, although these should not be taken for extended periods of time. In more severe cases of tendinitis (these are relatively rare), corticosteroid injections or surgery may be necessary. Manual therapies such as massage and special exercise programs that stretch and strengthen the tendon and supporting muscles can have better long-term efficacy than steroid injections. Your chiropractor can suggest a variety of treatments to help heal your tendinitis, including ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, massage, manual trigger point therapy and joint manipulation to help restore range of motion.