Tendons, the tough bands of tissue that connect tissue to bone (for example, the well-known Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscle to the ankle bone) are a common source of pain and injury, due to overuse or sports injuries. Some people develop tendonitis, inflammation of the tendons, while in other cases micro-tears form in the tissue, which is known as tendinosis; the term tendinopathy is often used as a general term to cover both types of injury.
Tendon injuries most commonly occur around the joints: tennis or golfer’s elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, and jumper’s knee are so common they have their own names, and Achilles tendon strains regularly appear in people who play certain sports, including runners. The shoulders and knees are a source of discomfort for many others, too; people who perform repetitive motions daily, due to their job or a hobby, are at the highest risk for tendon injuries.
Why do those people have an increased chance of painful tendon issues? It’s because tendinopathy is primarily an overuse injury: although in some cases the pain or swelling seems to come on immediately, generally it’s the result of repeated and prolonged strain or tearing in the tissue. Being aware of symptoms such as tenderness, mild swelling, or a dull ache in the area can help you catch it early, in which case further injury can be prevented with rest and other simple home treatments. However, it is possible to injure your tendons through sudden injury, especially if they are already inflamed or have formed tiny tears. A larger tear in the tissue takes significantly longer to heal and in some cases may require surgery.
Preventing tendon injuries starts with proper form: whether it’s your backhand with a racket or the way you lift and reach at work, maintaining safe and appropriate technique is essential. It’s also important to rest the area when you notice symptoms – switch up your exercises with some cross-training, update your desk with better ergonomics, change tasks with someone else for a few days if possible. Avoid straining the area for a while if you notice swelling or pain, and be sure to stretch before and after physical activity. Ice and over the counter pain medication can also be helpful for reducing inflammation and allowing micro-tears time to heal.