Introduction 

Tendonitis is a term often used to describe an inflamed and painful tendon.

Tendons are strong bands or cords of tissue that attach muscle to bone. They help move the bones and joints when the muscles contract.

Some tendons are covered by a protective sheath. The sheath is lined with a membrane that contains synovial fluid, which helps the tendon to move easily and minimises friction.

Tendon pain can be caused by small tears in the surrounding tissue, or the gradual deterioration of a tendon where it connects to the bone. This type of tendon pain is often known as tendinopathy.

Tendon pain can affect tendons in the:

  • shoulder
  • elbow
  • wrist
  • finger
  • thigh
  • knee
  • back of the heel

Read more about symptoms of tendonitis.

What causes tendonitis?

Tendonitis is commonly caused by:

  • a tendon injury – for example, while playing sports that involve throwing or using a racquet, such as tennis
  • overusing a tendon – for example, using a computer mouse may cause tendonitis in your wrist because of repetitive strain injury (RSI)

Tendonitis tends to be more common in people with diabetes. The reasons for this are not fully understood.

Tenosynovitis (inflammation of the sheath that surrounds the tendon) is sometimes associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Treating tendonitis

A painful tendon will often get better after a few days. Rest the affected area and stop doing the exercise or activity that has caused your symptoms.

Using painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen and applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the affected area may also help relieve tendonitis. A bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel also works well. 

For more persistent cases of tendonitis, treatments such as physiotherapycorticosteroid injections or shock wave therapy may be recommended.

In some cases, surgery may be recommended to treat long-term tendon pain that has not improved following treatment, such as Achilles tendinopathy or tennis elbow.

Read more about treating tendonitis.

When to see your GP

You should go to see your GP if your painful symptoms persist despite resting the affected area and using treatment at home.

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose tendonitis by examining the affected area. If there is any doubt, an ultrasound scan may be recommended.

Read more about how tendonitis is diagnosed.

Preventing tendonitis

If you play sport or exercise regularly, you should always warm up properly before you start. This will prepare your body for more vigorous activity and help you avoid injury. You should also cool down and stretch after you finish.

Read about how to warm up before exercising and how to stretch after exercising.

If you have had tendonitis in the past from exercising or playing sport, you may be able to make changes to prevent it recurring. For example, you may need to use different equipment or seek the advice of a coach about altering or improving your technique.

Read more about preventing tendonitis.

Tendonitis: an animation

Tendonitis is a painful condition caused by swollen or injured tendons in the body. This animation explains the condition in detail.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

Tendinopathy and tenosynovitis

The term "tendinopathy" is often used to describe both tendon inflammation and small tears in tissue surrounding the tendon.

However, most experts tend to associate tendinopathy with deterioration of a tendon where it connects to the bone (entheses).

Tenosynovitis is pain and inflammation in a tendon sheath. Sometimes both the tendon and the sheath can become painful and inflamed.

Page last reviewed: 10/04/2013

Next review due: 10/04/2015