Tendonitis is often associated with the hands, but it is a condition that can occur in any area of the body where tendons connect your muscles to the bones. Understanding what tendonitis is and the treatment options will help you make an educated decision about your own healthcare.

What Is Tendonitis?

Tendonitis occurs when one or more of your tendons become irritated or inflamed. Repetitive motion is often the cause of this irritation and the hands, wrists and elbows are especially susceptible to such injuries. The types of activities that can lead to tendonitis can include scrubbing during cleaning sessions, playing tennis or golf, carpentry work, raking, gardening, skiing, painting and shoveling. Using incorrect form or posture as you repeatedly perform these types of tasks or other routine movements can also lead to tendonitis.

Patients most often complain of tendonitis symptoms in the area that includes the elbow, forearm, wrist and hand, but the injuries can occur in the Achilles tendon of your ankle, hip or knee as well.

Tendonitis Treatment Options

Tendonitis or overuse tendinopathy can range from a minor and temporary annoyance to a major pain that impacts your daily functionality. The type of tendonitis you have and the severity of the issue are factors in what treatment a physician might recommend. Here’s a look at some of the most common recommended tendonitis treatments.

For Minor Cases: RICE

The RICE method can be applied to many types of muscle injuries, including tendonitis, to treat mild cases or for immediate relief as you wait for other treatments. RICE is an acronym for rest, ice, compression and elevation. That means you should rest the area in question (and especially avoid doing any of the repetitive motions that might have caused the injury), apply ice to the area followed by compression (compression bandages can be used) and elevate the area if possible.

OTC Medications

Healthcare providers may recommend taking over-the-counter pain medications that have anti-inflammatory properties, as the pain and irritation felt from tendonitis is related to the swelling of the muscle. Ibuprofen is a common OTC medication for this purpose and you might also ask your provider about the efficacy of soaking in warm water or Epsom salts.

Physical Therapy and Exercise Plans

For more advanced cases, a physical therapist can sometimes offer relief via exercises that help correct the issue and repair the tendon that’s damaged. These don’t always work for very chronic cases and it can be a bit painful to undergo the exercises, especially at first. Sticking with the plan and being consistent about it is important, though. Occasional exercises do little to alleviate tendonitis symptoms.

Relaxation Treatments

In some cases, practitioners can apply tendonitis treatments that relax the muscles and support better circulation, which can reduce the pain and discomfort. These treatments are typically applied via a whirlpool or ultrasound.

Surgery for Tendonitis

For chronic tendonitis, surgery is often the only solution that will work long-term. The good news is that most of the surgeries require less invasive procedures. For example, if you are dealing with tendonitis in the hand, the surgeon will make a small cut over the damaged area to view the tendon. This lets the doctor understand how much damage is there and what needs to be done about it. If the tendon is healthy but is torn, the surgeon stitches it back together so it can heal properly. If the tendon isn’t healthy enough to support functionality again, surgeons can take part of a healthy tendon from another location, such as a toe, and graft it in place to support recovery and future functionality.

How to Prevent Tendonitis

Not everyone is a good candidate for surgery and many of the other treatments for tendonitis are temporary in nature, so if you can avoid the problem in the first place, that’s obviously best course. Here are some ways to prevent tendonitis.

  • Practice good posture and form in whatever you do. This is especially important when you play sports or exercise regularly; typically, the form that is taught by fitness experts and coaches is put into place because sports and health experts have learned which types of movements put your body at greater risk.
  • When working in any repetitive task, ensure your work area and tools are as ergonomic as possible. That means they’re designed to reduce the strain on your body over time.
  • Warm up before regular activity, as cold muscles are more prone to injury.
  • Trust your body and rest when you need to.

Every ache in your hand, knee or elbow isn’t necessarily tendonitis, but remember, pain is an indicator that you’ve pushed your muscles to a certain point and may need to take a break. If you have regular pain, are unable to move certain areas or have other symptoms of tendonitis, then talk to your doctor or schedule a consult with a specialist to get the problem addressed. If it’s caught early enough, you may be able to opt for a minor treatment type. However, even chronic tendonitis can be treated and knowledgeable tendonitis surgeons and doctors can help you understand what the right option for your case might be.

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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.