The average person imposes daily demands on muscles and joints, which can only be increased in survival scenarios. We’ve discussed sprains and strains, but have rarely mentioned tendons. Tendons are thick fibrous cords that join your muscles to your bones. This is different from a ligament, which is a fibrous band that connects one bone to another. When tendons become irritated or inflamed, it’s called “tendinitis” or “tendonitis”.
Tendinitis causes acute pain and tenderness, which makes it difficult to move the associated joint. Maybe the most well-known tendinitis is “tennis elbow”, but any tendon can become inflamed. Besides the elbow, the most common areas affected are the shoulder, knee, wrist, and heel.
Signs and symptoms of tendinitis can appear suddenly or develop over time. It usually occurs at the point where the tendon attaches to a bone. Symptoms include:
- Pain when moving the affected limb or joint, sometimes described as a dull ache.
- Tenderness when touched.
- “Popping” when using the nearby joint.
Although tendinitis can be caused by a sudden injury, the condition is much more likely to stem from repetitive movements, like swinging a tennis racket or working on an assembly line. It’s more common in people whose jobs involve a lot of exertion, awkward positions, frequent overhead reaching, or exposure to vibrations. With sports, tendinitis is sometimes due to faulty technique. If you’re swinging a tennis racket wrong, you’re likely to develop tendinitis.
Of course, some other factors besides bad technique put you at risk. Age is probably the most important. As you age, your tendons become less flexible, which leads to injury.
If tendon irritation persists for several weeks or months, a condition known as “tendinosis” may develop. This condition involves degenerative changes in the tendon, along with abnormal new blood vessel growth. Without treatment, the tendon becomes so weak it snaps in two, known as a “rupture“.
The goals of tendinitis treatment are to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Taking care of tendinitis at home includes the R.I.C.E. strategy as is used for sprains.
Different medicines are used for tendinitis. The most common are pain relievers like NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.) Topical anesthetic creams also may be effective in relieving pain. Special exercise therapy designed to stretch and strengthen the affected muscle-tendon unit may also help. One method involves contracting a muscle while stretching it out.
Rest is a key part of treating tendinitis, but prolonged inactivity can cause stiffness in joints. After a few days of completely resting the injured area, have the patient gently move it through its full range of motion to maintain joint flexibility.
Another option is massage therapy. Transverse friction is a massage technique that’s sometimes used for tendonitis. The massage strokes used are deep and applied directly to the affected area, in a direction that’s perpendicular to the tendon. It may help reduce pain and improve blood flow.
Natural remedies also exist for tendonitis, but aren’t subject to testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Here are some:
The bark of the white willow contains salicin, which has effects similar to aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in pain relief and reducing inflammation.
Comfrey ointments have been used to heal bruises as well as pulled muscles and ligaments, fractures, sprains, strains, and osteoarthritis. But beware, never ingest it nor apply to broken skin. Comfrey can cause major damage to your liver. Use it for no more than 10 days at a time and definitely don’t give it to kids.
Other substances that have been suggested include turmeric. Curcumin, which gives the curry spice turmeric its bright yellow color, may help in treating painful inflammatory conditions, such as tendinitis and arthritis,
Joe Alton MD
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