Your tendons are like a well-trained army of 4,000 flexible bands of tissue deployed all over your body. By connecting your muscles to your bones, they allow you to move. When your brain says, “move your arm” and your muscle follows, you have a tendon to thank for making it happen.
This is why when a tendon is inflamed, movement hurts. Tendonitis (also spelled tendinitis) is the inflammation of a tendon. It usually happens because of overuse —repeating the same motion again and again.
Tendonitis is a very common athletic injury. You may suspect you have it if your pain is linked to activity. In other words, it only hurts when you are playing sports or moving a certain way.
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Types of Tendonitis
For athletes and active people, tendonitis often flares up in shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles.
Some kinds of tendonitis have nicknames that derive from the sport most associated with it, including:
- Tennis elbow: Pain on the outer side of the elbow that sometimes shoots down to your wrist. The official name for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis.
- Jumper’s knee: Pain around your kneecap that hurts most when jumping, running, and walking. Jumper’s knee is common in sports like basketball that require jumping. Its official name is patellar tendonitis.
- Pitcher’s shoulder: Caused by repeated throwing, this pain usually radiates from the front of your shoulder to the side of your arm. Pitcher’s shoulder is also called rotator cuff tendonitis.
You can get tendonitis nearly anywhere in your body, depending on what kind of activity you’re doing.
- Runners and other people who do high impact sports may have posterior tibial tendonitis. This is pain along the inside of your foot and ankle.
- Yogis who do a lot of arm balances may develop tendonitis in their wrists. It causes pain when flexing your wrists or putting weight on them.
- Athletes or workers who do a lot of heavy pulling and lifting can develop biceps tendonitis. This may hurt anywhere from your shoulder to your elbow.
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Why See a Primary Care Sports Medicine Doctor for Tendonitis?
Primary care sports medicine doctors are orthopaedic doctors with extensive training in sports medicine who don’t perform surgery. They see a range of patients from competitive athletes to avid gardeners, and they are often athletes themselves.
Because they treat active people, they see many of the same types of injuries. They also hear a lot of the same complaints —“It hurts when I move it like this.”
And they know the right questions to ask —“Does it hurt more when you run uphill or downhill?” A sports medicine doctor knows what problems are more common in runners versus swimmers versus airport baggage handlers.
A primary care sports medicine doctor is an expert who often can diagnose tendonitis simply by:
- Pressing on the tendon to see if — and where — it’s tender
- Asking you questions about when it hurts
They also can test specific muscle strength to determine any weakness that may be associated with the injury.
Your doctor may order an MRI. This is an imaging test that shows soft tissue. It helps your doctor get a better look at the tendon.
The goal of treatment is to get you back to doing what you love without pain. That usually means resting the tendon. Your doctor will give you guidelines for how long to take a break.
A sports medicine doctor can help you figure out other activities to do in the meantime. They can also give you tips for making modifications. For example, if you swim, maybe you need to stop doing the butterfly stroke but you can still do freestyle.
Other treatments a primary care sports medicine doctor may recommend for tendonitis include:
- Anti-inflammatories (either over-the-counter or by prescription for a stronger one)
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections
If your injury is severe and requires surgery, your doctor may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon.
To learn more or schedule an appointment with a primary care sports medicine doctor at UPMC Sports Medicine, please call 1-855-937-7678 or contact us online.
Tendinitis, Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Link.
About Sports Medicine
Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.