Symptoms of a tendon injury 

The main symptom of a tendon injury is pain in the affected tendon, which will usually get worse when you move it.

Other symptoms can include:

  • stiffness, which is often worse in the morning
  • weakness in the affected area or being unable to move a joint
  • swelling, sometimes with heat or redness
  • a sensation that the tendon is grating or crackling as it moves (this may be felt on examination)
  • a lump that develops along the tendon

Tendon injuries can often be treated with rest and painkillers at home (read more about treating tendon injuries), and will usually get better in a few weeks.

See your GP if your symptoms are severe or don't start to improve within a few weeks.

Specific tendon injuries

Tendon injuries can occur in many different parts of the body. Some common types are described below.

Supraspinatus tendonitis (shoulder)

Supraspinatus tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon at the top of the shoulder joint.

It causes shoulder pain when moving your arm, particularly if you lift it up high. The pain may also occur when you are lying on your shoulder at night. 

Calcific tendonitis (shoulder)

In calcific tendonitis, small calcium crystals form in the supraspinatus tendon in your shoulder. 

This can cause long-term mild pain, plus short episodes of more severe pain. The pain can spread down your arm or up into your neck. The condition may also cause your shoulder to become weak or stiff.

Biceps tendonitis (upper arm)

Biceps tendonitis affects the tendon that attaches the muscle on the front of your upper arm (bicep) to your shoulder.

This can cause pain in your shoulder and upper arm, which may be worse if you lift or reach overhead. 

Tennis elbow and golfer's elbow

Tennis elbow is pain around the outside of the elbow. Golfer's elbow is pain around the inside of the elbow.

These conditions cause pain when you bend or straighten your elbow. The pain is usually around the elbow joint, but may spread down your forearm towards the wrist. You may have less grip strength as a result of the pain and your elbow may feel stiff.

De Quervain's tenosynovitis (thumb and wrist)

De Quervain's tenosynovitis is where the sheath surrounding the thumb tendons, which run between the wrist and the thumb, become thickened and inflamed.

The main symptom is pain in the part of the wrist nearest the thumb, which gets worse as you use the hand and thumb. There may also be swelling in the wrist and "creaking" or "crunching" sensation when the thumb is moved.

Patellar tendonitis (knee)

Patellar tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shin bone. It's sometimes called "jumper's knee" because it can be brought on by jumping activities such as basketball or volleyball.

Symptoms can include knee pain, swelling, redness and warmth.

In children, pain can occur just below the kneecap. This is known as Osgood Schlatter's disease.

Achilles tendinopathy (heel)

Achilles tendinopathy is a condition affecting the Achilles tendon, which runs between the heel and the calf muscle in the lower leg. It's thought to be caused by repeated damage to the Achilles tendon that fails to heal properly.

Symptoms can include pain and stiffness in the heel, which are usually worse in the morning. Sometimes there is also a swelling at the back of the heel.

Ruptured tendon

If a tendon ruptures (tears), you will normally experience sudden and severe pain in the affected area. This may have been accompanied by a "popping" or "snapping" sound.

The pain may eventually settle down to a continuous, dull ache, but the affected area will often be weak and difficult to move.

Commonly affected areas include the heels, upper arms, knees, thighs, lower legs and hands.

See your GP as soon as possible if you think you may have ruptured a tendon, as you may need to be referred to hospital for investigation or treatment.


Page last reviewed: 09/03/2015

Next review due: 09/03/2017