Extensor Tendonitis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More

Medically Reviewed By Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP
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Extensor tendonitis is a common condition that can happen to anyone. It involves inflammation of the extensor tendons, which are bands of tissue that extend from the wrist to the fingers and from the ankle to the toes. The symptoms of this condition vary, depending on where in the tendon you have inflammation. For instance, If the top of your wrist is inflamed, you will experience pain when you move your hand up and down.

This article gives details about extensor tendonitis, including causes, signs and symptoms, treatment, and possible complications.

What is extensor tendonitis? 

a person is tying their shoe
Gillian Vann/Stocksy United

Extensor tendonitis is inflammation of the extensor tendons. Tendons are bands of tissue that connect bones and muscles. You have extensor tendons that go from your wrists to your fingers and from your ankles to your toes.

Extensor tendonitis can result from:

  • overuse or repetitive stress
  • poor exercise technique
  • injury

This inflammation can cause pain whenever you use your hands or feet.

Signs and symptoms of extensor tendonitis

One common symptom of extensor tendonitis is pain that worsens with activity or when you put pressure on the affected area. You may also see redness or discoloration over the tendon.

Additional symptoms of extensor tendonitis in the wrist and hand may include:

  • numbness or tingling sensations on the top of your hand
  • weakness or loss of sensation in your hand and wrist when you move it too quickly or use it for long periods
  • swelling of the tendons at the base of the fingers and around the wrist

If you have extensor tendonitis in your foot, you may have:

  • swelling of the foot
  • aching, burning, or shooting pain in the front of the heel, ankle, or foot

Learn when to see a doctor for foot pain.

Q:

Can extensor tendonitis go away on its own?

Anonymous

A:

Extensor tendonitis can go away on its own if the inciting injury or repetitive stress that has caused the inflammation in the tendon has stopped.

Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Treatment options for extensor tendonitis

The primary treatment option for this condition is rest, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

You can also try several other treatment options to ease symptoms, 2019 research suggests. These techniques may help you get back to doing what you love.

They may include:

  • Ice packs: This is one of the most effective ways to treat acute cases of extensor tendonitis. It helps reduce swelling and inflammation by constricting, or narrowing, the blood vessels near where the swelling is occurring. This helps reduce pain associated with swollen tissues.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy may help improve your range of motion and flexibility in your wrist, as well as reduce pain from inflammation. It will strengthen the muscle attached to the inflamed tendon and the surrounding muscles to help prevent further injury.
  • Corticosteroid injections: Corticosteroid injections can help reduce swelling around the wrist joint by reducing blood flow to inflamed tissue. It can also decrease pain by limiting inflammation throughout your body’s system.
  • Splinting: Splinting involves wrapping a removable splint around the joint to provide support while still allowing movement.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication: A healthcare professional may suggest taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, to help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Surgery: A doctor may consider surgery when your extensor tendonitis does not improve with conservative treatment such as rest and the use of ice packs.

If you suspect you have extensor tendonitis, talk with your primary care doctor, a sports medicine specialist, an orthopedic doctor, or a podiatrist (if the symptoms occur in your foot).

How long does extensor tendonitis take to heal?

Most cases of extensor tendonitis will resolve within 3 months of treatment, but some people may still experience symptoms up to 1 year later.

Rarely do people with extensor tendonitis need surgery. You may need it if you have experienced infection, severe pain, or a lack of response to other treatment options. Recovery times will vary depending on the type of surgery or treatment.

What is the fastest way to treat extensor tendonitis?

One effective way to treat extensor tendonitis is by resting. If the tendonitis is in your foot, it’s also important to use footwear that properly supports your feet. Take some time off from sports activities and let your body heal.

Recovery will be much faster if you avoid factors that may worsen extensor tendonitis. These include overexertion or cold weather, which can slow down blood flow to your arms or feet.

You may also take over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, to help reduce swelling and pain.

You should contact a doctor if:

  • These methods do not work.
  • Your symptoms worsen.
  • You feel concerned in any way.

What can cause extensor tendonitis?

Extensor tendonitis can be due to a variety of factors, which include:

  • injury to the tendon, usually due to overuse or repetitive motion such as typing on a keyboard for long periods without taking frequent breaks
  • aging, which can lead to degeneration of the tendons
  • very tight or small shoes
  • sports that involve a lot of wrist action, such as rock climbing or playing racquet sports
  • being overweight, which puts too much stress on tendons

Learn some more common causes of foot pain.

What is the outlook for extensor tendonitis?

Most people with extensor tendonitis find that their symptoms are better within 3 months of starting to follow treatment methods and recommendations. But some people find that symptoms can take a year to improve.

It is also common to experience flare-ups of symptoms during recovery.

Surgery for tendon injuries also generally has a very positive outlook, according to the AAOS.

What are the complications of extensor tendonitis?

Complications are rare and usually minor, according to a 2015 research review.

When there is damage to the extensor tendons, they become inflamed and swollen.

This swelling can be painful and cause a decreased range of motion in the joint. The inflammation can also result in the formation of scar tissue if left untreated.

How to prevent extensor tendonitis

Prevention of extensor tendonitis is a very important part of the treatment plan.

Prevention tips

  • Stay active through exercises and move your body in a proper form when doing these types of activities, so that you do not injure yourself.
  • If you use your arm or foot for repeated movements, it is important to warm up and stretch the muscles before performing any activity.
  • If you already have extensor tendonitis avoid activities that put pressure on your elbow joint.
  • Avoid repetitive motions, such as lifting heavy objects or running too much on hard surfaces.
  • Always wear proper fitting shoes suited for the given activity at hand.
  • Take breaks when you feel that your tendons may be under strain.
  • Pay attention to how your feet feel after working out or trying new shoes.

Summary

Extensor tendonitis is a common condition that can happen to anyone. It can be due to various underlying causes, including injury to the tendon, aging, and excessive strain on the tendon.

It is usually associated with certain activities, such as running on hard surfaces, lifting weights, playing sports, or even training in martial arts.

Extensor tendonitis can also result from certain movements, such as walking barefoot or wearing shoes that are too stiff and tight.

The most important thing to do if you think you may have extensor tendonitis is to seek medical treatment right away.

You should see a primary care doctor or an orthopedist, which is a doctor who specializes in foot and ankle injuries. They can diagnose the concern and recommend the appropriate treatment for you.

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Medical Reviewer: Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 28
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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