Tendons are rope-like tissues that connect your muscles to your bones. Tendinopathy can develop when you injure or overuse a tendon. Although tendinopathy can become chronic, your symptoms will likely improve with rest and physical therapy.
Tendinopathy is the broad term for any tendon condition that causes pain and swelling. Your tendons are rope-like tissues in your body that attach muscle to bone. When your muscles tighten and relax, your tendons and bones move. One example of a tendon is your Achilles tendon, which attaches your calf muscle to your heel bone and causes ankle movement. If you have pain and/or swelling in that area, you might have Achilles tendinopathy.
The pain from tendinopathy can interfere with your daily life. For example, it can keep you from playing sports and from doing housework. So, if you have pain or swelling, make sure to contact your healthcare provider for help.
Tendinopathy includes both tendinitis (tendonitis) and tendinosis.
Tendinitis means inflammation of your tendon. It’s a painful injury that can either be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). You may develop tendinitis after a sudden injury from lifting a heavy weight or from repetitive activities that cause micro-tears in your tendon over time.
Tendinosis is the breakdown (degeneration) of the collagen fibers in your tendon. It happens slowly and is often the result of tendon overuse.
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Tendinopathies are tendon conditions that cause pain and swelling. Some of the most common tendinopathies that healthcare providers see include:
Other tendinopathies include:
Tendinopathy affects people of all ages, but some people are more likely than others to develop tendinopathy. Higher risk groups include:
Just having increased risk doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get tendinitis or tendinosis. Talk to your healthcare provider if you're concerned.
In the general population, tendinopathy affects about 2% to 5% of people. It’s more common in athletes, though. For example, multiple studies have shown that each year around 10% of runners develop Achilles tendinopathy. Furthermore, roughly 50% of all sports injuries are tendon injuries.
You may have tendinopathy if you’re experiencing pain or tenderness with some or all of the following symptoms:
It might be helpful for you to make a list of your symptoms and keep a journal to track them. Your healthcare provider will want to know how long you’ve had the symptoms and their severity so they can make an accurate diagnosis.
The exact cause of tendinopathy isn’t always clear. It’s often related to multiple factors. In addition to being in a higher risk group, other risk factors include:
Tendon problems aren’t limited to athletes. As many as 30% of people with Achilles tendon injuries lead a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle. Experts theorize that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to poor blood circulation in the tendon. When someone has poor blood circulation and suddenly increases their activity, that can cause hypoxia (not enough oxygen in their tissues), impaired nutrition and weakened energy metabolism (metabolism is the process of changing food into energy). Those issues might contribute to events that lead to tendon degeneration.
Tendinopathy can turn chronic if minor injuries occur regularly and don’t heal completely. Repeated activities may cause collagen fibers to break down over time, leading to tendinosis.
Examples of repetitive tasks that can cause tendinosis include:
Some medical conditions put you at a higher risk for tendinopathy, including:
Medications that increase your risk of tendinopathy include:
Common sports associated with tendinopathy include:
Your healthcare provider should go through two steps when you see them about your symptoms: they’ll discuss your history and perform a physical examination. When you talk about your history, your healthcare provider should address:
During the physical exam, your healthcare provider might:
Your healthcare provider might diagnose you with tendinopathy based on reported symptoms and the physical exam or, if they need more information, they might order an imaging test such as:
Your healthcare provider might ask questions such as:
The treatment for your tendinopathy depends on the type you have. The treatments for tendinosis aren’t the same as the treatments for tendinitis. Treatment also depends on which tendon is bothering you. The common treatments for tendinosis include:
Researchers tried other treatments, including low-level laser therapy, iontophoresis, phonophoresis and therapeutic ultrasound. Unfortunately, researchers found very little proof that these treatments help with tendinosis.
Common treatments for tendinitis include:
Your healthcare provider might consider surgery if none of the nonsurgical treatments work. They’ll likely have you try the nonsurgical treatments for about six months and, if they don’t work, then they’ll consider surgery.
Yes, you may need to see a specialist. Different healthcare providers specialize in muscle and bone problems, and you should ask your healthcare provider which type you should see.
Recovery time for tendinitis can take as little as two days (if it’s an acute injury) and as long as six weeks. Tendinosis usually takes about two to six months.
You can't prevent tendinopathy altogether. For example, accidents can happen to you while you’re playing or working. But, you can take some steps to reduce your risk of tendinopathy.
To reduce your risk of tendinopathy, work with a trainer or coach. A change in how you play or a different way to stretch could help the same tendons.
The prognosis for people with tendinopathy is usually very good. Most people recover from tendinopathy without surgery.
Yes, tendinopathy can return if you have another injury or continue the same repetitive tasks as before. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to help reduce the risk of your specific tendinopathy coming back after treatment (recurring).
You might want to see your healthcare provider if you have an injury and experience symptoms of tendinopathy. You should also see your healthcare provider if you slowly get the symptoms of tendinopathy over a few weeks.
You might want to go to the emergency department if you feel sudden, sharp pain, especially when you’re playing a sport or exercising.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Tendinopathy is a broad term for conditions of the tendon that cause swelling and pain. Tendon conditions are painful. They can restrict your movements and bench you not just from the game, but also from your everyday activities. See your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of tendinopathy. There are treatments available and several steps you can take by yourself to help your healing process. The faster you get help, the faster you’ll feel better.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/10/2022.
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