Tendinopathy: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
When pain strikes a tendon, it can cause significant discomfort. Sometimes this discomfort comes and goes quickly, other times it can linger for long periods of time, or come and go.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not only athletes and people playing sports that are at risk from tendinopathy. The condition is often caused by repetitive, everyday activities performed across many professions and age groups.
Often called golfers or tennis elbow – or confused with tendonitis – tendinopathy is a common form of overuse injury many people will experience at one time or another in their lifetime.
Tendinopathy can greatly limit not only our sporting activities, but our everyday ones as well and can linger for months, or even years, if not diagnosed and treated correctly.
What is tendinopathy?
There’s some confusion around the term tendinopathy. Some medical experts may use the term tendinopathy exclusively to describe a degeneration of the collagen protein that forms the tendon.
They differentiate this from tendonitis, which is an inflammation of the tendon.
However, others use the term tendinopathy to describe any problem involving a tendon – including tendonitis.
To avoid confusion, it’s important to clarify with your medical professional the details of the condition they believe you have if you are diagnosed with tendinopathy.
Where does tendinopathy occur?
Tendons are strong, rope-like connective tissues that attach our muscles to our bones. While tendinopathy can affect any tendon, it’s more common in the:
- The Achilles tendon – which connects the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone.
- Rotator cuff tendons – cover the head of the humerus (upper arm bone), helping you to raise and rotate your arm.
- Patellar tendon – the tendon connecting your kneecap (patella) to your shin bone.
- Hamstring tendons – connect the hamstring muscles to the pelvis, knee, and shin bones.
What are the symptoms and signs of tendinopathy?
Tendinopathy usually presents with a burning pain and swelling in the affected area.
Symptoms and signs include:
- Pain that gets worse when the tendon is used.
- Swelling, redness and a warmth to the skin in the affected area.
- A noticeable increase in pain in stiffness overnight and first thing in the morning.
The symptoms of a tendon injury can be similar or combined with bursitis.
What are the causes of tendinopathy?
Tendinopathy is most commonly caused by overuse of the tendon by repetitive actions. This may include sporting, work or, day-to-day activities. This means that some of the most at-risk groups for tendinopathy include people who do manual labor, musicians, and athletes.
Other causes can include:
- Sudden stress on a tendon (eg, a high impact sport after a period of inactivity)
- Old age
- A lack of muscle tone
- Obesity (as this puts tendons in the body under more stress)
How to treat tendinopathy
There are a number of ways to treat tendinopathy, at home or with the help of an experienced physiotherapist. How you treat your tendinopathy will depend on the cause and severity of the condition.
If your tendinopathy is new or relatively mild, you may consider starting with home-based treatments.
It’s a good idea to start by treating the area with an ice pack for the first three days. The ice will help reduce pain and reduce swelling. It’s a good idea to apply an ice pack for between 15-20 minutes.
After three days using ice, heat treatments may be a better choice for tendinopathy pain. Applying heat will help blood flow and relax muscles, making it easier for your body to heal the injury.
A popular way to treat tendinopathy at home is through the RICE Method.
- Resting the affected area as much as possible, as often as possible and for as long as possible.
- Ice pack: Applying an ice pack to the injury up to eight times a day to reduce swelling
- Compress: Use an elastic bandage compress, wrapped firmly but not too tight around the affected area.
- Elevate: Keep the affected area raised on a pillow or other device. This can help to reduce any swelling.
Remember to switch from an ice pack to a heat pack after three days of treating your injury.
If your injury is more serious or hasn’t improved after a few days of home treatments, seeking professional help is the best option.
A physiotherapist can help you assess the severity and cause of the condition and how best to treat it. They can also work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you reduce the likelihood of it reoccurring.
It’s a good idea to see a physiotherapist if you’re at high risk or work in a profession where repetitive movements are commonplace.
Surgery is usually considered the last option in the treatment of tendinopathy and is only considered after all nonoperative options have been tried. The surgery you need will depend on what tendon is affected and to what extent.
If you think you’re experiencing tendonitis, a trip to both your GP and physiotherapist is a good starting point to work out a treatment plan and to address what caused the condition to help keep it from happening again.
If you’d like to speak to someone from our friendly team about your tendon pain, please contact us on 07 3841 3070.