What is Tendonitis?
Tendonitis is a common injury that occurs not only in the gym but also from other sport or work activities. But what is tendonitis? Firstly, tendons are strong bands of connective tissue that join muscles to bones. Repeated stress to the tendons produces micro tears. If the stress to the tendon continues these tears don’t have the opportunity to heal fully and inflammation persists. This produces pain, swelling, stiffness, weakness and sometimes warmth in the affected area. Common areas for tendonitis to occur include the shoulders, wrist, knee, hamstrings and at the base of the heel. Its important to note that inflammation itself is not the problem. Its actually part of the healing process and needs to occur. The problem is whatever is damaging the tendon in the first place.
Common causes for tendonitis are overuse of a particular movement, poor movement technique, not warming up properly, lots of impact such running and jumping, lifting weights that are too heavy, using sports equipment that is too heavy or incorrectly fitted e.g. tennis racquets or golf clubs, holding awkward positions for a long time or not allowing sufficient recovery time for stressful activities.
Treatment for Tendonitis
The first step in treating tendonitis is to stop aggravating the injury. Movements or activities that place stress on the injured area should be avoided to give the tendon time to heal. Often this is all that is needed and the tendons will spontaneously recover within 3-6 weeks. Possibly the worst thing you can do with tendonitis is ‘push though the pain’. This will almost always make the problem worse and increase the time and work needed to fix the problem.
At the same time it is important to identify the cause of the tendonitis to avoid recurrence. This is where a Personal Trainer, physiotherapist or doctor can help. There may be a technique issue to be addressed for particular exercises or your exercise program may need to be changed to avoid overuse problems.
One common area for tendonitis is the rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder. Often these can become stressed through poor mechanics at the shoulder and long-term treatment will often require stretching and strengthening to rebalance the rotator cuff and shoulder joint. Again, a professional such as a Personal Trainer or Physiotherapist can help identify and treat these problems.
Other treatments that can help include massage, acupuncture, stretching and cold-treatment. Eccentric exercises which help strengthen the tendons may also be appropriate. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as ibuprofen may also be useful in some cases in the short-term. Remember though, inflammation is part of the healing process so trying to suppress this with drugs is unlikely to be successful long-term.
Early identification and treatment of tendonitis is important because, if left too long, it can worsen into a condition known as tendonosis. This is where chronic inflammation of the tendon leads to cellular breakdown of the tendon itself. Think the tendon turning to jelly. Not only does this make the tendon incredibly weak and likely to completely rupture but also means full recovery would normally take a minimum of 3-6 months. If you are experiencing chronic tendonitis it is important to have it checked by a professional to avoid any long-term or major damage.