Tendonitis

Tendonitis (such as tennis elbow) is when a tendon swells up and becomes painful after a tendon injury. You can treat mild tendon injuries yourself and should feel better within 2 to 3 weeks.

How to treat tendonitis yourself

Follow the 4 steps known as RICE therapy for 2 to 3 days to help bring down swelling and support the injury:

  1. Rest - stop the exercise or activities that caused the injury until you feel better
  2. Ice - put an ice pack (you could use a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a teatowel) on the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours
  3. Compress - wrap a bandage around the injury to support it
  4. Elevate - if possible, keep the injured area raised on a pillow when sitting or lying down

To help prevent swelling during the first 2 to 3 days, try to avoid:

  • heat, such as hot baths and heat packs
  • alcohol
  • massages

When you can move the injured area without pain stopping you, try to keep moving it so the tendon doesn’t become stiff.

Your pharmacist can help with tendonitis

Your pharmacist can recommend the best painkiller. This might be tablets or a cream or gel you rub on the skin.

Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help to ease mild pain. Wait for 48 hours after your injury before taking ibuprofen, because it can slow down healing.

Check if it is tendonitis

There are tendons all over your body. They connect your muscles to bones, for example in your knees, elbows and shoulders.

The main symptoms of tendonitis are:

  • pain in a tendon (for example, in your knee, elbow or shoulder) which gets worse when you move
  • difficulty moving the tendon
  • feeling a grating or crackling sensation when you move the tendon
  • swelling, sometimes with heat or redness
  • a lump along the tendon

There are many different types of tendonitis, depending on which area of the body is affected.

Types of tendonitis
Affected area Possible types of tendonitis
Knees patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee)
Elbows tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow
Shoulders calcific tendonitis or supraspinatus tendonitis
Wrists and thumbs de Quervain’s disease
Heels Achilles tendonitis
Upper arm biceps tendonitis

Go to a minor injuries unit or your GP if:

  • your symptoms don’t improve within a few weeks
  • you’re in a lot of pain
  • you think you’ve ruptured (torn) a tendon

A ruptured tendon usually causes sudden and severe pain. You might hear a popping or snapping sound during the injury.

Treatment from your GP

Your doctor may prescribe a stronger painkiller or cream or gel to bring down the swelling.

If your injury is severe or lasts a long time, you may be offered physiotherapy. You can also choose to book appointments privately.

You may be referred to hospital for a scan if your doctor thinks you could have another injury, such as a broken bone.

Some people with long-term or severe tendonitis may be offered:

  • steroid injections to reduce pain and swelling
  • shock wave therapy to help speed up healing
  • surgery to remove damaged tissue or repair a ruptured tendon

You can’t always prevent tendonitis

Tendonitis is most often caused by sudden, sharp movements or repetitive exercise, such as running, jumping or throwing.

To help reduce your risk of tendon injuries:

Do

  • warm up before exercising and stretch afterwards
  • wear suitable shoes for exercise
  • take regular breaks from repetitive exercises

Don't

  • over-exercise tired muscles
  • start a new sport without some training or practice
  • stick to the same repetitive exercises

Tendonitis can also be caused by repetitive movements or having poor posture at work. For example, when using a keyboard and mouse. This is known as repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Things you can do to prevent RSI

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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