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Spring is in the air, and If you’re like many of our clients, you just might be picking up a tennis racquet or golf club for the first time since fall. We’re all excited to get back into the swing of our favorite outdoor activities, but we might overdo it just a little. In the physical therapy world, spring is tendonitis season as that enthusiasm sometimes translates into overuse and injury.
What Is Tendonitis?
Tendons are rope-like tissues that connect the bones to the muscles, often near important joints. Your tendons work hard for you every day, helping move your hands, arms, shoulders, knees and ankles. But they can also become inflamed or experience tiny tears because of overuse and repetitive motion. That’s what we call tendonitis, and while it’s usually easy to repair when caught in time, it’s definitely not something to ignore.
How Does Tendonitis Happen?
Tendonitis is often related to repetitive motion and overuse, both in sports and in the workplace. Sports are one of the big causes of tendonitis: according to the American Physical Therapy Association, overuse tendonitis accounts for between 25 and 50 percent of all sports injuries. Workplace activities–including everything from construction jobs to desk jobs can also cause tendonitis because of repetitive motion or strain. Decreased elasticity in the tissues makes tendonitis more common in older individuals. As many athletes know, some of the moves that worked for us in our 20s aren’t as much of an option in our 40s and beyond, so in many cases, breaking bad habits is key.
Where Does Tendonitis Occur?
Tendonitis generally happens in joints that see a lot of activity, whether from work or play. Some of the most common locations for tendonitis include:
- Shoulder: tendonitis in the rotator cuff (where the upper arm meets the shoulder) is common not only in athletes (tennis players, swimmers) but also in people whose work requires raising the arms, including carpenters and painters.
- Elbow: the two most common types of elbow tendonitis are named for sports: tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. Tennis elbow causes pain on the outer side of the elbow joint and comes from motions that twist and flex the wrist. Golf elbow affects the inside of the elbow joint and usually comes from repetitive elbow bending. Both sports (like golf and baseball) and certain jobs that require repetitive elbow bending (like construction work) can cause golfer’s elbow.
- Knee: tendonitis of the knee generally happens just above or just below the kneecap. It’s often related to high-impact sports like basketball and running, but can also be seen in employees whose work keeps them on their feet.
- Achilles tendon: tendonitis in the large Achilles tendon near the heel usually has a direct tie to sports. According to Harvard Medical School, Achilles tendonitis accounts for 15 percent of all running injuries and can often be prevented by choosing the right footwear for running.
- Wrist: wrist tendonitis can certainly happen to athletes, but it’s an especially common workplace injury. We often see wrist issues in employees with desk jobs where repetitive motion stress is high. One specific wrist injury, known as De Quervain’s tendonitis, happens on the thumb side of the wrist and is often related to technology use–both in and out of the workplace–from overuse of smartphones, computers and other devices.
How Can I Prevent Tendonitis?
Here are a few excellent tips from the American Physical Therapy Association for preventing tendonitis:
- Avoid repetitive movements that put pressure or stress on a joint.
- Stretch before physical activity–and don’t forget smaller joints like the wrist and ankle.
- Keep your core and upper body strong to avoid extra stress on weight-bearing and other joints.
- Learn and follow joint protection techniques, especially in the workplace, and use a brace or support when recommended. Your physical therapist can help with this.
- If you feel an activity starting to hurt your joint, stop and reevaluate. Learn to identify and change bad habits in sports and in the workplace.
- Paying attention to technique. Also, wearing the right shoes can play a big role in avoiding knee and Achilles tendonitis while running or playing your favorite sport.
How Can I Treat Tendonitis?
The good news is, surgery is rarely required to treat tendonitis. However, it is key to identify and address it before it becomes chronic. Physical therapy provides one of the safest and best approaches to treatment. Your physical therapist can start by helping you identify the repetitive or incorrect movements that are causing the problem. Your therapist will develop an exercise program to help you recover through gentle range of motion and strengthening exercises. Many patients also benefit from pain relief techniques through physical therapy including soft tissue massage and ultrasound treatments. Your therapist may recommend a brace for the affected area as you get back to your work and recreational activities.
Tendonitis Treatment at Countryside Orthopaedics
Tendonitis is one of the most common conditions we see in our physical therapy practice. But there’s a tendency among athletes to simply ice it, pop some ibuprofen and ignore it. However, you don’t have to live in pain. And you don’t want to escalate the problem by ignoring it. There are safe, drug free treatments available thanks to a range of proven strategies from our team of excellent physical therapists and hand therapists. We’ll help you break those bad habits and have you back on the courts, on the course or back to work, with brand new strategies for staying healthy.