Sharp pain that develops while practicing for sports or performing routine work is often the first sign of tendinitis. Actions that are repeated over and over, whether as part of your job or a sports activity, can gradually strain the muscles used to perform that movement. Continued strain and fatigue will extend the strain to the tendon, which becomes inflamed and painful. Without relief from the activity, the tendons become damaged, progressively wearing down and increasing pain. In addition to sharp pain with particular movements there is often restricted movement, heat where the tendon attaches to the bone, and sometimes swelling is visible.
Overuse of a specific muscle or group of muscle progresses to the point that the tendons have been kept taut or restricted for too long and too often. This is generally brought on by job related movement or sports that require repeated movement or practice. These are medically referred to as repetitive motion injuries, a severe form of tendinitis.
Tennis elbow is probably the best known repetitive motion injury, brought on by repeatedly and vigorously swinging the tennis racket and impacting the tennis ball. Another well known repetitive motion injury is known as trigger thumb, or gamekeeper’s thumb, a contraction of the tendon from repeatedly grasping or pressing with the thumb. It is also common with avid gardeners and others who repeatedly grasp or exert pressure with their thumb. Basketball players are susceptible to jumper’s knee. For the shoulder, it is frequently the rotator cuff that is strained. Typists frequently end up with the carpal tunnel syndrome, brought on by tendinitis in the wrists. This and other forms of tendinitis can also be brought on by extended periods of repeated grasping, lifting or pushing, as part of many industrial or assembly jobs.
Unfortunately for many, the pain doesn’t just interfere with recreation, but for many their livelihood depends on continuing to perform the painful movement as part of their work. If left untreated, the tendon pain and damage increases and can rupture the tendon, breaking it loose from it’s attachment to the bone. While anti-inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen can ease the pain, it is important to recognize that it does not heal the damage, and continuing to repeat the damaging movement under the comfort of medication will still continue to do more damage.
Surgery can reinforce damaged tendon tissue, and can reattach the tendon to the bone. Surgery is also expensive, rehabilitation is slow, and training of surrounding muscles to take the work off of the injured area is part of the recovery. Even when healed, returning to the same situation that created the injury often results in reinjury and chronic pain.
For this reason, early treatment and therapy is essential. At the first sign of pain, ice is the first line of defense. Cold compresses, applied to the tendon, help to reduce the inflammation. It is important to rest the muscles involved, to allow the muscle and tendon tissue to rebuild and heal. Anti-inflammatory medications can relieve pain and improve healing as long as you don’t use it just to mask the pain and keep working.
The affected tendon will benefit from progressive stretching of the tendon in the opposite manner. In the case of tennis elbow, the stretches will include resistance stretches from the hands to exert opposite tension on the tendon in the elbow. Another helpful stretch calls for extension of the arm forward and gently pulling the flattened hand back toward the body. For trigger thumb, placing the hands flat together in front of the chest and pressing the fingers against each other, rotating the thumbs down until you feel the resistance, will help isolate the particular tendon area that needs stretching.
Many books are available on therapeutic stretching, and offer excellent and specific information to help prevent and heal tendinitis. They are also much cheaper than a physician, and if your tendinitis is mild it may be quite possible to treat with this simple and are an economical investment in your health. Stretches, done correctly, are designed to relax and extend the tendons and muscles, and should not be overdone to the point of pain. Muscle development to the surrounding area will help to protect the recovering tendon, and help prevent future strain.
If initial treatment with ice, rest, and stretches does not improve your pain, then your injury should be assessed by an orthopedic physician, who can best prescribe the further course of action to treat your overuse injury.