Tendons connect muscle to bone and help move joints. Tendinopathy is an injury to the tendon. These injuries tend to occur in tendons near joints such as knee, shoulder, and ankle. The injuries can include:
- Tendonitis—An inflammation of the tendon. Although this term is used often, most cases of tendinopathy are not associated with significant inflammation.
- Tendinosis—Microtears in the tendon tissue with no significant inflammation.
The following tendons are often involved:
- Achilles —back of heel
- Patellar tendon, which is attached to the kneecap
- Rotator cuff in the shoulder
- Biceps in the shoulder
- Wrist extensors near the elbow, on the outside
- Wrist flexors near the elbow, on the inside
- Quadriceps tendons
- Ankle tendons
Tendinopathy and the associated pain may take months to resolve. You may need medication for pain relief.
Tendinopathy is caused by overuse of a muscle-tendon unit. The strain on the tendon causes very tiny tears that accumulate over time. There can also be inflammation.
These tears cause pain and can eventually change the structure of the tendon.
Tendinopathy is more common in women than in men. Factors that may increase your chance of getting tendinopathy include:
- Overuse can be the result of doing any activity too much
Strenuous or repetitive activities
- Physical labor
- Muscle imbalance
- Decreased flexibility
- Advancing age
- Alignment abnormalities of the leg
Symptoms may include:
- Pain in the tenon or surrounding area, particularly with activity
- Decreased motion of related joints
- Local swelling
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may need some images of the tendon and bone. Imaging tests may include:
Treatment depends on:
- Severity of symptoms
- The tendon involved
- Length of time symptoms have lasted
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include:
- Rest for the affected tendon
- Ice after activity
- Avoiding the activity that is responsible
- Cast or splint for immobilization of the affected area
- Counterforce brace over the painful tendon
- Reduce shock vibration on the joint with shoe inserts
- Shoe orthotics for foot alignment problems
Your doctor or physical therapist may recommend exercises or a rehabilitation program.
To manage pain or swelling, your doctor may recommend:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs)
- Prescription pain relievers
- Topical pain relievers, such as creams or patches that are applied directly to the skin
- A medication called cortisone. It can be injected into the sheath around the tendon.
To prevent tendinopathy:
- Gradually work yourself into shape for a new activity.
- Gradually increase the length of time and intensity of activities.
- If you have a tendon that has been a problem, gradually stretch out that muscle/tendon unit.
- Strengthen the muscle to which the tendon is attached.
- If you have pain, do not ignore it. Early treatment can prevent the problem from becoming serious.
- Learn to back off from activities if you are tired or not used to the activity.
- Warm-up the affected area before activity.
American College of Sports Medicine
FamilyDoctor.org - American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Exercise-induced leg pain. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/exercis-inducedlegpain.pdf. Accessed March 18, 2013.
Mayor RB. Treatment of athletic tendinopathy. Conn Med. 2012;76(8):471-475.
Patellar tendinopathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 3, 2012. Accessed March 18, 2013.
Patellar tendon tear. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00512. Updated August 2009. Accessed March 18, 2013.
10/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Massey T, Derry S, et al. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.
4/24/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Wise JN, Weissman BN, et al. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria for chronic foot pain. Available at: http://www.acr.org/~/media/ACR/Documents/AppCriteria/Diagnostic/ChronicFootPain.pdf. Updated 2013. Accessed April 24, 2014.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.