Tendinitis is a condition in which a tendon is inflamed, causing swelling and pain. Tendons are strong cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones.
Tenosynovitis is a condition that’s linked to tendinitis. It occurs when the lining of the sheath around a tendon is inflamed. The sheath alone can be inflamed, or both the sheath and the tendon can be inflamed at the same time.
Many people develop these conditions related to sports because the physical demands of their chosen activity involve repetitive motions that put stress on the tendons.
Tendinitis can occur in any tendon, but it's most common around the shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and heels. As a result, the most common tendon disorders are:
- Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow): This causes pain in the back side of the elbow and forearm, along the thumb side when the arm is next to the body with the thumb turned away. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist back and away from the palm.
- Medial epicondylitis (golfer’s or baseball elbow): This causes pain from the elbow to the wrist on the palm side of the forearm. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm.
- Rotator cuff tendonitis: This shoulder disorder causes inflammation of the shoulder capsule and related tendons
- DeQuervain's tenosynovitis: This is the most common type of tenosynovitis disorder; it causes swelling in the sheaths of the thumb’s tendons
- Trigger finger or trigger thumb: In this type of tenosynovitis, the tendon sheath becomes inflamed and thickened, making it hard to extend or flex the finger or thumb; the finger or thumb may lock or "trigger" suddenly
Left untreated, tendinitis can increase the risk of a tendon rupturing. This is a serious condition that may require surgery, so it’s important to see a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment as soon as symptoms appear.
Also, if tendon inflammation lasts for weeks or months without treatment, it may lead to a condition called tendinosis. This can cause degenerative changes in the tendon as well as abnormal new blood vessel growth—again underscoring the importance of timely diagnosis and treatment.
Why Choose Us to Diagnose and Treat Tendinitis and Tenosynovitis
Cooper University Health Care has a team of seven board-certified and fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating tendinitis and tenosynovitis. You can count on us for:
- Fast access: Our policy is to see patients within 24 to 48 hours of a sports injury, whenever possible
- Comprehensive diagnostic resources: Your doctor will take a thorough health history, perform a physical exam, and order state-of-the-art diagnostic testing, which may include:
- Musculoskeletal ultrasound: Cooper is well known for its expertise in this quick, painless and radiation-free way to image soft tissues such as tendons, ligaments and muscles
- Joint aspiration: A needle is used to take a small amount of fluid from the joint; the fluid is tested to check for or rule out gout or an infection
- Personalized treatment: Treatment is personalized based on your age, general health and severity of symptoms, and may include:
- Icing the area to reduce inflammation and pain
- Advice to change your activities to relieve stress on the affected tendons
- Braces or splints to immobilize the injured area
- Image-guided injections of anti-inflammatory (steroid) medications
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation and pain
- Physical and Occupational Therapy
- Antibiotics if the condition is due to infection
Tendinitis and Tenosynovitis Causes and Risk Factors
The cause of tendonitis and tenosynovitis is not always known, but is often due to the repetition of a certain movement over time, either sports-related or at work. This overuse causes stress and strain on the tendon and leads to inflammation. Other causes may include:
- Sudden injury
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Certain factors increase the risk of developing tendinitis or tenosynovitis, including:
- Age: As we age, our tendons become less flexible, making them more prone to injury
- Playing certain sports that involve repetitive motions, especially if your technique needs improvement; these sports include:
- Certain occupations: Tendinitis and tenosynovitis are more common in individuals whose jobs involve:
- Repetitive motions
- Vibration (like a jackhammer operator)
- Awkward positions
- Frequent overhead reaching
- Forceful exertion
Symptoms of Tendinitis and Tenosynovitis
The symptoms of tendinitis and tenosynovitis usually occur where a tendon attaches to a bone and generally include:
- Pain and tenderness in the affected limb or joint, especially when you move it
- Mild swelling from inflammation and fluid accumulation in the affected area
- A grating sensation when you move the joint
Preventing Tendinitis and Tenosynovitis
There are several things you can do to lower your risk of developing sports-related tendinitis, including:
- Avoid activities that put a great deal of stress on your tendons, especially for extended periods. If you feel pain during a particular exercise, stop and rest.
- Cross-train: If a certain activity causes you pain, try something else. Mix up weight-bearing exercise, like running, with a lower-impact activity such as swimming or cycling.
- Improve your technique: If the way you perform a certain activity or exercise isn’t optimal, you are putting yourself at risk of tendon issues or injury. Get proper instruction when you start a new sport or use exercise equipment.
- Stretch: Stretching after exercise—when your muscles are warmed up—helps optimize the range of motion of your joints and muscles, which can help minimize the effect of repetitive stress on tight tissues.
- Condition your muscles for play: By strengthening the muscles you use in your sport, you help them better handle the physical demands of the game.