Tendonitis surgery is often a good option when pain and discomfort have begun to interfere with daily functionality or enjoyment of life. Most healthcare providers recommend trying some conservative approaches first, such as asking patients to take over-the-counter pain relievers to manage discomfort and treat the area with RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Physical therapy can also be a good idea for mild or moderate tendonitis, but for chronic cases, surgery is often the only permanent way to deal with the problem.

What Is Tendonitis Surgery?

Tendonitis surgery is a medical procedure that addressed the injury, tear or breakdown of a tendon. Tendons are tissues in the body that connect muscles and bones and ensure the bones move appropriately along with the muscles.

During tendonitis surgery, a doctor cuts through the layer of skin and fat to expose the tendon in question. One of the most common places for tendonitis to occur is in the hand, though you can experience it anywhere tendons are located on the body (including the ankle, knees and elbows). During the surgery, you will be sedated and the medical staff may also use local anesthetic at the site where the incision will occur.

Overview of Tendonitis Surgery

The complexity of your tendonitis surgery will depend on how much damage the tendon has experienced and where the tendon is located. It’s relatively easy for surgeons to access a tendon in the hand, for example, though some other tendon locations may require slightly more invasive techniques.

Once the tendon is uncovered, the surgeon can make a complete evaluation of its state. Most surgeons will know ahead of time what to expect, but seeing the tendon is important and will be the determining factor in exactly what type of surgery is performed.

If the tendon is simply torn but is otherwise healthy, the surgeon will stitch it back together. The stitches hold the tendon together so it can heal, similar to the way stitches in the skin hold it together until scar tissue forms and the skin renews and regrows. The type of stitches used in the tendons are surgical-grade and they disintegrate over time, so they don’t need to be removed at a later date. Note that the stitches used on the tendon itself may not be the same used to close an incision; whether or not those will need to be removed will depend on the surgeon.

In some cases, there isn’t enough healthy tendon left for it to be repaired. The surgeon will need to take tendon materials from somewhere else on your body. For example, if they are fixing a tendon in the hand, they may take some tissue from the toe. That new tissue is grafted onto the damaged tendon. The concept is similar to that of a skin graft; the new tissue and what healthy tissue that may be left then heal together to form a functional tendon.

The risks associated with tendonitis surgery are minor in comparison to more major surgeries, but all medical procedures do carry some risks. Those risks may change according to the age and overall health status of the patient, so make sure you speak with your surgeon about risks and understand them all before moving forward. Some of the most common risks associated with tendonitis surgery are scarring and numbness. Around 20 percent of people who undergo this type of surgery in the hand area experience at least some numbness on the back of the hand long-term.

Post-Procedure and Recovery Expectations

In most cases, tendonitis surgery is an outpatient procedure. That means you won’t have to stay in a hospital overnight and can go home a few hours after the surgery. You will want someone to be there to drive you home, as you won’t have full use of your hand (if that’s where the surgery site is) and may still be under the effects of medication. Even if you do have the surgery in the hospital and are kept for observation due to mitigating factors (such as your health or another condition), it would most often be for only a night.

Tendons can take up to 12 weeks to heal. During that time, you may need to wear a splint to keep the tendons supported and in a proper healing position. Depending on the severity of the condition, your own range of motion both before and after surgery and the complexity of the surgery, your provider might also recommend that you participate in physical therapy to speed healing and a return to functionality.

A good plastic surgeon always tries to mitigate any scar tissue caused by the procedure. This is important for tendon surgery because, if too much scar tissue forms, it can impact the functionality and movement of the area in question. If this does occur, though, the scar tissue may be treatable to mitigate the problem.

When tendon repairs are accompanied by appropriate follow-up and physical therapy, they can be very successful. Speak to your surgeon about what you need to do in the weeks following your procedure for the best possible outcome.

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Dr. Yueh

About Dr. Yueh

Dr. Janet H. Yueh specializes in hand surgery including Trigger Finger, Basal Joint Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel and Tendonitis. Dr. Yueh did her undergraduate work at Harvard University in Cambridge where she graduated magna cum laude. She continued her education at Harvard Medical School where she earned her M.D.