Tendon injuries

What are tendon injuries?

Tendon injuries, also known as tendinopathies, happen when there is an overload that causes small fibres to tear. When the affected muscles or joints are put under pressure, it causes tendon inflammation which reduces blood flow and can lead to nerve compression. When there is a mild inflammation it is referred to as tendonitis. It is called tendinosis if there is tendon degeneration.

Tendon injuries are common in sports. Injury location will depend on the sport. Some common tendon injuries include:

  • Achilles tendon: in the heel, it is common among professional athletes. It causes inflammation, pain, and swelling.
  • Patellar tendon: in the knee, it is more common in women. Exercising is important to avoid discomfort.
  • Supraspinatus tendon: in the shoulder, as it is a fragile area, and recovery tends to take longer. This is usually the tendon affected in rotator cuff injuries.
  • Lateral epicondyle tendon: in the elbow, most commonly known as tennis elbow. It is common amongst tennis players, but can happen in other professions too.

Prognosis:

Tendon injuries do not tend to be a serious condition, providing adequate treatment is given.

Tendon injuries may be:

  • Acute: less than two weeks
  • Subacute: between three to six weeks
  • Chronic: more than six weeks

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of tendon injuries vary according to their location. There are several common symptoms, including:

  • Pain and tenderness when moving the tendon or joint
  • Stiffness at night or upon waking
  • Inflammation
  • Heat and redness
  • Hearing or feeling a crack when moving the tendon
  • Thickening of the tendon (in some cases).

Medical tests:

A physical examination is normally enough to identify the affected tendon and the seriousness of the injury. However, in some cases the specialist may carry out other tests to have a closer look, these may be an ultrasound or an MRI scan.

What causes tendon injuries?

Some of the most common causes include:

  • Not warming up before exercise
  • Sports injuries
  • Repetitive movements or overexertion
  • Physical changes (such as postural dysfunction and many more)
  • A bad movement, especially when exercising
  • Inadequate training equipment
  • Metabolic dysfunctions or poor hydration

How can tendon injuries be prevented?

There are different tips that can be followed to avoid this kind of injury. It is important to take care when lifting heavy loads to avoid pushing the tendon beyond its limit.

A massage or stretching after lifting a heavy load is one way to prevent a tendon injury.

Other things to bear in mind are:

  • Improving sports techniques
  • Lessening loads
  • Using appropriate footwear

What is the treatment for tendon injuries?

Treatment tends to be conservative, and includes rest and anti-inflammatory measures, depending on the severity of the injury. This may include medications, nutritional supplements, dietary changes, using bandages and manual therapy.

The methods used will depend on the injury location, severity, and how long it has affected the patient. Although there are many different treatments, the most common ones are:

  • Rest
  • Stretching
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Physiotherapy

When treatment doesn’t work, surgery may be resorted to instead.

What specialist should I see?

Tendon injuries are normally treated by a sports medicine specialist, an orthopaedic surgeon or a physiotherapist.

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