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The Best Ways to Treat, Prevent Tendonitis

Tennis elbow, quarterback shoulder, and jumper's knee are forms of tendonitis, a painful but preventable injury.

Tendonitis is your body's way of telling you, "Enough! You're putting too much stress on this muscle and joint."

Tendons are connective tissues that hold muscles to your bones. When muscles contract, tendons react, causing bones to move.

Too much stress on joints can tear and inflame tendons, says the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). The tissue will repair itself quickly if the damage is slight or happens only occasionally. But the pain can become chronic if the damage occurs frequently.

Weekend athletes recognize that tendonitis is a common result of overdoing it especially when the body is out of shape.

Other factors contribute to tendonitis:

  • Forceful or violent motions, such as pitching a fastball

  • Unnatural motions, such as serving a tennis ball

  • Poor body mechanics or technique when doing an activity, whether aerobics, lifting weights, or painting the ceiling

Typically, several of these factors may be involved at once.

Is it tendonitis?

To determine if the problem is tendonitis, check the location of the pain. It's probably tendonitis if it's close to the connecting muscles around the joint.

Chronic tendonitis is a dull but persistent soreness that feels worse when you first start to move, then eases up as muscles get warmer. But don't be misled by this temporary relief. If you keep reinjuring the tissue, there will come a time when the pain will persist even while you're active, the ACR says. In severe cases, the injury may become impossible to repair without surgery.

Acute tendonitis is a sharper pain that may keep you from moving the joint. The pain eventually goes away, but it's likely to return if the stressful motion is repeated.

Treating tendonitis

See your health care provider if you think you have tendonitis. Your provider may recommend the classic RICE treatment for pain relief: Rest the joint; apply ice packs; compress the area with an elastic bandage to reduce soreness and inflammation; and keep the joint elevated.

Your health care provider may recommend taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, which may also help inflamed soft tissue.

If your health care provider gives you the OK, begin exercising to strengthen the muscles around the sore joint within a day or 2. Start with a long warm-up to minimize shock to the tissues, then try lifting light weights or working with an elastic exercise band. Go easy at first, then build as your strength increases. Stretching is also an important part of treatment. Hold each stretch for 10 seconds to 20 seconds and repeat 3 times to 5 times. 

Preventing tendonitis

A prevention program should replace bad habits with these techniques that promote a healthy workout:

  • Warm up thoroughly, gradually building the intensity level of your workout. Cool down after the session.

  • Train for a new sport before you start it. Start building strength and flexibility in the muscles you will use a few weeks or months in advance.

  • Learn the proper technique and use the proper equipment for any exercise or activity. Work out consistently, not just once a week.

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