Tendon Injury (Tendinopathy)
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This topic does not address severe tendon tears or ruptures. To help you assess a tendon injury, see the topic Shoulder Problems and Injuries, Elbow Injuries, Knee Problems and Injuries, Finger, Hand, and Wrist Injuries, or Toe, Foot, and Ankle Injuries.
What is a tendon injury?
Tendons are the tough fibers that connect muscle to bone. For example, the Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. Most tendon injuries occur near joints, such as the shoulder, elbow, knee, and ankle. A tendon injury may seem to happen suddenly, but usually it is the result of many tiny tears to the tendon that have happened over time.
Doctors may use different terms to describe a tendon injury. You may hear:
Most experts now use the term tendinopathy to include both inflammation and microtears. But for many years most tendon problems were called "tendinitis." Many doctors still use this familiar word to describe a tendon injury.
What causes a tendon injury?
Most tendon injuries are the result of gradual wear and tear to the tendon from overuse or aging. Anyone can have a tendon injury. But people who make the same motions over and over in their jobs, sports, or daily activities are more likely to damage a tendon.
A tendon injury can happen suddenly or little by little. You are more likely to have a sudden injury if the tendon has been weakened over time.
What are the symptoms?
Tendinopathy usually causes pain, stiffness, and loss of strength in the affected area.
The symptoms of a tendon injury can be a lot like those caused by bursitis.
How is a tendon injury diagnosed?
To diagnose a tendon injury, a doctor will ask questions about your past health and your symptoms and will do a physical exam. If the injury is related to your use of a tool or sports equipment, the doctor may ask you to show how you use it.
If your symptoms are severe or do not improve with treatment, your doctor may want you to have a test, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI.
How is it treated?
In most cases, you can treat a tendon injury at home. To get the best results, start these steps right away:
As soon as you are better, you can return to your activity, but take it easy for a while. Don't start at the same level as before your injury. Build back to your previous level slowly, and stop if it hurts. Warm up before you exercise, and do some gentle stretching afterward. After the activity, apply ice to prevent pain and swelling.
If these steps don't help, your doctor may suggest physical therapy. If the injury is severe or long-lasting, your doctor may have you use a splint, brace, or cast to hold the tendon still.
It may take weeks or months for a tendon injury to heal. Be patient, and stay with your treatment. If you start using the injured tendon too soon, it can lead to more damage.
To keep from hurting your tendon again, you may need to make some long-term changes to your activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
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