What Is Tendonitis? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Your body relies on tendons for everyday movements, but what happens when they get injured? Read this lesson to learn all about tendonitis - what it is, what causes it, what the resulting symptoms are, and how it's treated.

What Is Tendonitis?

Tendons are the connective tissues that connect muscles to bones. In healthy individuals, tendons are strong, thick, fibrous bundles that can handle movement and pressure. However, sometimes they can also become inflamed, irritated, or even torn, and this is called tendonitis. Sometimes there is no obvious cause to tendonitis, but other times a specific injury can be identified. Tendonitis can affect most areas of the body, including the shoulder, elbow, knee, wrist, and heel of the foot.

Causes of Tendonitis

Let's take a look at some of the known causes of tendonitis. Overuse occurs when a repetitive motion leads to injury of a tendon, and overload occurs when a physical activity is increased too quickly. One example of overuse is tendonitis in the elbow, sometimes called tennis elbow. One example of overload includes lifting too much weight too soon, without working your way up to a desired weight. In rare cases, tendonitis can also be caused by an infection in the body.

Symptoms of Tendonitis

The most common symptom of tendonitis is pain in the affected area. Sometimes this pain is accompanied by swelling, redness, weakness, and feelings of warmth around the injured area. Specifically, symptoms may vary depending on which part of the body is injured. Let's look at a few of these specific sites.

  • Shoulder: general aching, dull pain that is felt in entire shoulder and may extend to the arm and chest
  • Elbow: pain on the outside of the elbow that may include the forearm and wrist or pain toward the inside of the elbow (the location of pain varies based on the exact elbow injury)
  • Knee: pain is usually beneath the knee but in some cases may also be above it
  • Wrist: pain is usually at the back of the wrist, near the thumb base
  • Heel of the foot (Achilles tendon): pain will be felt on the heel or two to four inches above it

The Achilles tendon in the heel, shown here, is one commonly affected location tendonitis occurs.
Achilles tendon image

Treatment Options

Recovery time depends on the location and severity of the injury or inflammation. Sometimes tendonitis heals itself in a few days, whereas other times it may take weeks or months to fully recover. Early diagnosis is key to a speedy recovery. Initial treatment of tendonitis usually includes applying ice to the affected area, as this can help keep the swelling and inflammation down. An over-the-counter pain reliever may be taken to reduce pain and inflammation.

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