Treating tendonitis 

An episode of tendonitis may only last for a few days. However, sometimes it can be more persistent and last for several weeks or months.

There are a number of different treatment options, although what's best for you may depend on which tendon you have injured.

Self-care

You can treat tendonitis yourself at home using the self-care techniques described below.

Rest the tendon

Stop doing the activity that caused tendonitis, such as sport or typing, or at least reduce the amount you do. This will help prevent any further inflammation or damage.

It's important to rest the affected area to allow the inflammation to settle. Some form of support, such as a bandage, splint or brace, may help by reducing movement.

How long you need to rest for may depend on which tendon is affected and how severely it is damaged. For example, if you have golfer's elbow, you may need to rest your elbow for at least six weeks.

Ice packs

Applying an ice pack to the affected area may help ease the pain and swelling. Do not put ice directly on your skin, as it may cause a cold burn. Instead, wrap it in a towel or put a towel over the injured area before applying the ice pack. A bag of ice cubes or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel works just as well.

Hold the ice pack on the affected area for around 15-20 minutes several times a day. You can also use an ice pack after exercise to try to prevent symptoms occurring.

Painkillers

Tendonitis can be treated with mild non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. NSAIDs provide short-term pain relief and help reduce inflammation. They are available as a medicine that you swallow or as a gel that you apply directly to the affected area. 

These drugs should not be used for long periods and are not recommended for people with asthma, kidney disease or liver disease

Other painkillers, such as paracetamol, will also help ease the pain. For more severe pain, a stronger painkiller such as codeine can be prescribed.

Dietary supplements

Some people have reported that their tendonitis symptoms improved after taking dietary supplements such as amino acids. However, as yet there is no scientific evidence to show that these supplements have any benefits.

Therapies and injections

Physiotherapy 

Physiotherapy uses massage and manipulation to help recover movement and function in the affected areas. There are many different physiotherapy techniques, including:

  • special exercises to stretch and strengthen the tendon and surrounding muscles
  • massaging the affected area
  • high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound)
  • narrow beams of light (lasers)

Physiotherapy can be used to relieve pain and may result in more long-term improvement than corticosteroid injections.

Corticosteroid injections

Corticosteroids are medicines that contain steroids (a type of hormone) and can be used to reduce inflammation. If there is inflammation, corticosteroids can be injected around the affected tendon or into the tendon sheath.

Although corticosteroid injections can relieve pain, they do not have a long-term effect and the pain often returns. You can have another injection, but you will need to wait at least six weeks.

It is not possible to have more than three injections into the same area in a year, as it can increase the risk of the tendon rupturing (splitting).

Corticosteroid injections may have side effects such as thinning and lightening of the skin.

Local anaesthetic injections

Local anaesthetic is often used to numb a specific area of the body during minor surgical procedures. In some types of tendonitis, local anaesthetic can be injected into the affected area as well as corticosteroids.

Extracorporeal shock wave therapy

Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is a treatment option when tendonitis has not responded to other treatments.

It involves passing shock waves through your skin to the affected area. This may be carried out over one or more sessions, and local anaesthetic may be used to numb the area first.   

The treatment may help relieve the pain caused by tennis elbow or Achilles tendonitis, but it is not clear whether it is better than other treatment options.

If you are considering this treatment, you may be asked to take part in a clinical trial to look at how effective it is over time.

There are also possible risks, such as:

  • the tendon rupturing – in one study, this happened to two out of 49 people who had ESWT for Achilles tendonitis 
  • temporary redness or swelling
  • pain during the treatment
  • feeling sick

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines about the use of:

Surgery

Surgery may be a possible option for some types of tendonitis. However, most cases of tendonitis improve with time, so surgery is not usually necessary. You may want to try other treatments for up to a year before considering surgery.

Tennis elbow

Several different surgical techniques have been used for tennis elbow, including:

  • removing a damaged section of muscle from the elbow
  • removing part of a ligament in your elbow
  • damaging a nerve in your elbow so you no longer feel pain there

The benefits of surgery for tennis elbow have yet to be proven. Your symptoms may improve, but this could be because the condition was getting better anyway, or it may be as a result of the placebo effect.

After surgery, you should be able to start playing sport again within four to six months.

Calcific tendonitis

Surgery can be used to remove calcium deposits that have formed in the tendon in your shoulder. This can be carried out using a technique called an arthroscopy.

An arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery that can be used to look inside a joint and repair any damage. Only a very small cut needs to be made in your body.

Biceps tendonitis

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

Surgery can be used to reattach the end of the tendon to the bone in your upper arm (humerus). This may be an option if you are in severe pain or you have torn the tendon.

What's your sport?

Find out which sport you're best suited to with this short psychological and aptitude test

Find your sport

More evidence needed

Few of the recommended therapies for tendonitis have been subjected to randomised controlled trials (RCTs), and a stronger evidence base is needed before particular treatments can be classed as being totally effective.

Compare your options

Take a look at a simple guide to the pros and cons of different treatments for tendonitis

Page last reviewed: 10/04/2013

Next review due: 10/04/2015