If you’re experiencing chronic tendon pain that’s impacting your day-to-day life or ability to function, then it’s time to find out what you can do to make a change. Often, this pain — which is felt in the hands, ankles, knees, elbows or other areas where a tendon connects muscle to bone — is because the tendon itself has been damaged. The condition is called tendonitis and chronic cases are usually best treated with surgery.

What Is Tendonitis Surgery?

The surgery is completed in order to repair or treat the damaged tendon in the most appropriate way. Tendons are a critical factor in how many parts of your body move. Your brain sends signals to your muscles when you want to move a part of your body, causing said muscles to contract. That causes the tendons to pull the bones they are connected to, which moves them back and forth. If you think of all the times you move these parts of your body — especially the many joints in your hands — it’s not surprising that the tendons can experience “wear-and-tear.”

During tendonitis surgery, that wear-and-tear is addressed. In some cases, the tendon is simply torn and the surgeon sews it back together. In other cases, the tendon is so diminished, it can’t be repaired or recover without some additional help. In these cases, the surgeon may take a small portion from a different tendon in your body and apply it to the damaged tendon. This is known as a graft and it works along the same concept as a skin graft.

Surgery on your tendons is not as invasive as surgery on a major organ. In fact, for many people, the surgery is handled in an outpatient facility or as an outpatient procedure in a hospital, which means you go home a few hours after it is done.

Symptoms of Tendonitis

To understand whether it’s time to talk to your doctor about tendonitis surgery, you must know some of the symptoms and whether you might be experiencing them. Some symptoms of a damaged tendon can include:

  • Pain that is described as a dull ache.
  • Pain that becomes worse or arises upon movement of the joint or area.
  • Swelling of the area where the pain is located.
  • Tenderness — even when the dull ache isn’t there, the area might be painful when touched.
  • You may be unable to hold onto items or maintain a grip if the tendonitis is in your hand.
  • Certain activities become harder or painful if they use the tendons in question; hand tendonitis, for example, can lead to trouble drawing or writing.

How to Prepare for Tendonitis Surgery

The first step in preparing for this surgery is to find a qualified tendonitis surgeon you can trust to get the job done right. Your surgeon will provide you with all the instructions required to make the surgery as successful as possible and it’s important to follow each of those instructions. Ask questions and ensure you have all the information you need to make informed decisions and properly prepare.

Some things you might be asked to do include getting rest, if possible, prior to the surgery and not eating anything a certain amount of time before the surgery. This is necessary because an anesthetic will be used.

You’ll likely need to arrive at the facility ahead of time to be checked in and complete any necessary paperwork. During this time, you’ll likely have a chance to get any last-minute questions answered before you are prepped for the procedure.

Post-Surgery Expectations

Recovery from tendonitis surgery takes an average of about 12 weeks and for some or all of that time, you might need to wear a splint to support the healing tendons. Keeping the tendons in the right position is crucial, especially in the first few days or weeks.

You may be provided with a prescription for pain medication for use in the first few days after the surgery. In many cases, you can switch to over-the-counter medications to manage pain after that and listening to follow-up advice from your healthcare provider can greatly reduce any discomfort.

Many post-surgery patients benefit from physical therapy. A therapist can teach you exercises to strengthen the healing and recovering tendon and engaging in those exercises properly helps you develop a fuller range of motion over time.

Scar tissue is often a concern for patients who undergo any type of surgery and with tendon repair, it’s about functionality as well as how it looks. The development of too much scar tissue can lead to problems with range of motion. Your surgeon will work with you to reduce scarring and address scars that do occur.

Tendonitis surgery can be a way to ensure fully functional, healthy tendons. Many patients have much better use of their hand, elbow, knee or another area after surgery and once the tendon is healed, they won’t deal with pain every time they move or use it. To find out how to experience these benefits, talk to your surgeon or doctor about surgical tendon repair.

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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.