What is tendinitis and what causes it?

Tendons connect our muscles to our bones and are highly important body parts as they convert muscle contraction to movement of skeletal bones. They are a part of the connective tissue and are typically located at the ends of muscles to help stabilize the body. Even though tendons are very strong and tough, they can become injured by excessive strain and become inflamed in a medical condition known as tendinitis. This type of acute tendinitis can be caused by a heavy lift or rapid movement at an odd angle resulting in breaks in the fibrous tissue of the tendon. Additionally, repetitive movement from activities such as tennis, gardening or painting, to name a few, can also cause stress and milder trauma to the tendon that over time builds to tendinitis. Even if these movements are not extremely strenuous, repeated movement can cause small tears and breaks in the tendon that get worse if not allowed to heal as the repetitive movement continues. In both cases of acute and long-term injury, the tendon swells and starts to hurt in an inflammatory response. In rare cases, infection from an animal bite may cause tendinitis.

Symptoms of tendinitis

The most common symptom of tendinitis is pain in a tendon and the surrounding area. This pain can either build in strength or come suddenly, but typically it gets worse with movement. In general, sudden pain is related to acute tendinitis whereas pain that builds in intensity most often relates to long-term tendinitis from repetitive motions. Other symptoms include stiffness and sometimes redness and a heating or burning sensation in the injured and inflamed area. In some cases, the tendon can be damaged so badly there is reduced mobility and loss of function in the afflicted area. Even though you can get tendinitis in any tendon in the body, some areas are more prone than others to be afflicted. The thumb, elbow, knee, hip, shoulder and Achilles tendon are some common areas to develop tendinitis.

Who is at risk for developing tendinitis?

Although tendinitis is more common in adults, the condition can affect anyone and many have in fact experienced it at one point or another in their life. Despite being so universal, increasing age does result in less elastic tendons that are easily torn and damaged during physical activity, making age a risk factor for tendinitis. Athletic people or people working in certain professions are also at higher risk for developing tendinitis, giving rise to expressions such as tennis elbow or swimmers shoulder. Tendinitis associated with professions are typically of the long-term variety, slowly building as the repetitive motions performed day after day constantly increase the stress and inflammation of the tendons. As proper recovery from tendinitis can take weeks or even longer to heal, tendinitis causes great distress, lower life quality and loss of work opportunities.

How to treat tendinitis

Being in pain over longer periods of time from long-term tendinitis or repeated acute tendinitis can be very debilitating and a cause of frustration and stress. Fortunately, most of the suggested treatments for tendinitis are quite simple and easy to do at home. Treatment of tendinitis mainly focuses on pain relief and resting the tendon. These steps are important as further strain on the tendon after an injury increases the risk of worse damage and potentially even rupture of the tendon. A completely ruptured tendon needs surgery in order to regain the functionality and heal. By following the top treatment suggestions provided below, most injuries might be healed fairly fast. Even if the pain has decreased or completely gone away after treating your tendinitis, be careful when you start working or exercising again as there could be small tears still present in the tendon that need further time to heal. Stressing the tendon prematurely may aggravate the tendinitis. If the symptoms do not improve after a week or two with these treatments you should contact a doctor to make sure the tendon is not severely injured.

The top 10 treatments for dealing with tendinitis:
  1. Resting is probably the most important treatment to heal tendinitis fast. Continued physical activity and working through the pain will only make it worse.

  2. Cooling the area relieves the pain and helps bring the swelling down. This is a great option during the first 48 h after injury. Ice packs or even frozen food (a bag of peas for instance) can be used, just remember to not place the ice directly on your skin as it can cause damage on its own. Use a towel or something similar as a barrier to be safe.

  3. Heating can also work as pain relief if more than two days have passed since the injury. Warm baths, hot towels, or warm buckwheat pillows can all be used for this purpose. As with cooling, be sure to not use excessive heat to avoid skin burns.

  4. Ointments, creams or other topical solutions can also be used for pain relief by providing either a cooling or heating sensation or by lowering the inflammatory response. At Clear Koala we provide one such solution in the form of both a spray and roll-on, which contains both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents to reduce the pain associated with tendinitis.

  5. Applying pressure on the afflicted area or joint using a compress. The pressure can both help with the pain and stabilize the tendon to reduce further movements that may be harmful before it has healed properly. The compress should be tight but not limiting the blood flow, as that is harmful.

  6. Keep the injured body part elevated when you can. By raising the body part above the level of your heart, swelling and the associated pain is reduced.

  7. Avoid the activity causing pain to allow the tendon to recover. This also keeps the tendinitis from getting worse. When you have healed, try to follow the preventive measures described below for physical activity. These measures help by reducing the chance of tendinitis recurring.

  8. Physical therapy helps to get strength and motion back to the afflicted area. Massage as part of physical therapy may also speed the healing process and reduce the pain.

  9. Splinting the body part reduces the range of motion in order to help the tendon to rest and recover from repetitive use. As with the use of compresses to apply pressure, splints should not affect the blood flow but still provide sufficient support. 

  10. Over the counter drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen will also help relieve the pain. You can always ask the staff at your local pharmacy for suitable drugs for tendinitis.

Decrease your chances of getting tendinitis in the future

If you have had tendinitis before and had a hard time dealing with the pain and the time it takes to heal, rest assured, as there are things you can do to minimize the chances of getting it again. Tendinitis can be prevented and the really good news is that the methods described below are not difficult to follow. These tips are also useful when you are in a high risk group working in certain professions or performing sports where repetitive movements are common such as gardening, cleaning, shoveling, tennis, golf and swimming etc.

Tips for preventing future tendinitis:

  • Do not start a high intensity exercise regimen suddenly as this increases the likelihood of tendons being damaged from overuse. Instead, start lightly and increase the number of repetitions and length of workouts, as you become stronger.

  • Make sure you warm up before any physical activity. By slowly allowing the tendons and muscles to get used to the increased strain, the risk of injury and issues with tendinitis decreases.

  • Limit repetitive movements over prolonged periods of time as much as possible. A tip is to vary the type of exercise or work task you are doing, the stress on the tendons decreases and lowers the risk of developing tendinitis.

  • Take breaks during long lasting activities that involve repetitive movements. When a certain task has caused you previous issues with tendinitis, rest when you can, change your position or do something else for a while before symptoms appear. Even though taking a break can be difficult at times, it is actually the more time efficient option, as you do not need to spend time recovering from tendinitis pain.

  • Proper technique, good posture and ergonomics all help to minimize the strain on tendons and muscles. If you are participating in a sport of some type, it can be a good idea to have an expert look at your technique and suggest changes if needed. A physical or occupational therapist can guide you to proper ergonomics in the work place to decrease the strain on the areas with tendinitis.

  • Perhaps the most important preventive measure is to stop whatever activity or sport you are doing if you are experiencing pain that could be due to tendinitis. If the pain is ignored and the damaging activity continues, the injury to the tendon can become even worse and make the healing process longer. Sometimes pain is the body's way of telling you to take it easy.

When healing from tendinitis, use of Clear Koala may provide a welcome relief from the pain.