Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is tendinitis?

Tendinitis is an inflammation of a tendon, a group of sturdy fibers that connects a muscle to the nearby bone. Another commonly used term for tendinitis is tendinopathy. Tendinitis is generally caused by injury, trauma, or overuse of a joint. Tendinitis may be referred to by a more specific description depending on the location where it occurs, such as Achilles tendinitis or tennis elbow. The elbows, heel, shoulder and wrist are common locations for tendinitis.

Anyone may experience tendinitis, although the risk of developing tendinitis may be increased in older populations, people who do not exercise regularly, or people who experience excessive rotations of a joint. Some conditions that affect the entire body, such as rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation) or diabetes, can increase the risk of developing tendinitis.

Tendinitis is treated with rest along with medications to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Physical therapy can be helpful to improve muscle strength and enhance healing. In some cases, surgery will need to be performed to repair tendon damage.

Tendinitis generally does not pose a serious medical risk. However, repeated or prolonged tendinitis may require treatment by a medical professional. If your tendinitis symptoms worsen or are persistent or recurring, you should seek prompt medical care.

What are the symptoms of tendinitis?

Symptoms of tendinitis typically manifest around the affected joint. With proper treatment and rest, symptoms generally improve. Some forms of tendinitis, such as Achilles tendinitis, can lead to tendon rupture and significant disability.

Common symptoms of tendinitis

You are likely to experience tendinitis symptoms daily within the first several days after onset. Symptoms may then continue daily or recur just once in a while. It is important to allow adequate time for healing of your tendinitis, even if you are not experiencing these symptoms on a daily basis. At times any of these symptoms can be severe:

  • Joint pain that increases with movement
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
  • Reduced joint range of motion
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • Tenderness in the joint
  • Thickening of the affected tendon

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, symptoms of tendinitis may signal a more serious condition. Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

  • Symptoms of tendinitis occurring in more than one joint
  • Symptoms of tendinitis that last for several months

What causes tendinitis?

Tendinitis is usually due to lifestyle or exercise habits. It may also be caused by a general loss of flexibility in the tendon as part of the normal aging process. Less commonly, it may be caused by a serious underlying medical condition.

Causes of tendinitis

Common causes of tendinitis include:

  • Joint injury such as a sprain
  • Joint overuse
  • Normal aging
  • Tendinitis may occasionally be caused by a serious underlying medical condition including:
  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

What are the risk factors for tendinitis?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing tendinitis. Not all people with risk factors will get tendinitis. Risk factors for tendinitis include:

  • Diabetes
  • Faulty footwear and equipment
  • Faulty athletic training surfaces
  • Infrequent exercise followed by periods of exertion
  • Repetitive movements of the joints, such as in tennis, carpentry, painting and scrubbing
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Sports training errors

    Reducing your risk of tendinitis

    In many cases, your risk of developing tendinitis may be greatly reduced by modifying your exercise habits using the following simple guidelines:

    • Decreasing the intensity of your exercise
    • Exercising on a regular schedule
    • Participating in cross-training
    • Stretching frequently
    • Warming up before exercising

    How is tendinitis treated?

    Tendinitis will generally resolve on its own given adequate time and proper home care. If your tendinitis is persistent or you feel your tendinitis is severe, you should consult with your health care provider. Additionally, tendinitis may occasionally be caused by an underlying medical condition that would need to be identified and treated.

    Treatments for tendinitis

    Tendinitis treatments include:

    • Administration of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or aspirin
    • Heat and ice application to the tendon
    • Immobilization of the joint, usually through application of a splint or removable brace
    • Physical therapy
    • Resting the tendon
    • Steroid injections
    • Surgery

    Complementary treatments

    Some complementary treatments may help some people to better deal with tendinitis. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary treatments are not meant to substitute for full medical care.

    Complementary treatments may include:

    What are the potential complications of tendinitis?

    Tendinitis itself does not typically pose a risk of serious complications. However, if you are experiencing symptoms of tendinitis and these are left untreated, complications can arise. An example of this would be continuing to repetitively use the affected joint rather than resting it and treating the symptoms of tendinitis.

    Additionally, tendinitis may rarely be a symptom of a serious underlying medical condition. If not identified and treated, complications from such conditions can be serious or even life threatening. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of tendinitis and its potential underlying causes include:

    • Adverse effects of treatment
    • Complete tear of the tendon
    • Persistent or chronic pain
    • Physical disability
    • Recurrence of tendinitis symptoms
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    1. Tendinitis. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002209/
    2. Achilles tendinitis. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001072.htm
    3. Coombes BK, Bisset L, Vicenzino B. Efficacy and safety of corticosteroid injections and other injections for management of tendinopathy: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Lancet 2010; 376:1751
    4. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013
    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 11
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