Tendonitis is when a tendon swells (becomes inflamed) after a tendon injury.
It can cause joint pain, stiffness, and affect how a tendon moves.
You can treat mild tendon injuries yourself and should feel better within 2 to 3 weeks.
How to treat tendonitis yourself
Follow these steps for 2 to 3 days to help manage pain and to support the tendon.
- Rest: try to avoid moving the tendon for 2 to 3 days.
- Ice: put an ice pack (or try a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) on the tendon for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
- Support: wrap an elastic bandage around the area, use a tube bandage, or use a soft brace. You can buy these from pharmacies. It should be snug, not tight.
It's important to take a bandage or brace off before going to bed.
When you can move the injured area without pain stopping you, try to keep moving it so the joint does not become stiff.
To help prevent further injury or pain, try to avoid:
- heavy lifting, strong gripping or twisting actions that make the symptoms worse
- playing sports, until the tendon has recovered
A pharmacist may help with tendonitis
They may also recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) cream or gel you rub on your skin.
Symptoms of tendonitis
There are tendons all over your body. They connect your muscles to bones in your joints, for example, in your knees, elbows and shoulders.
The main symptoms of tendonitis are:
- pain in a tendon that gets worse when you move
- difficulty moving the joint
- feeling a grating or crackling sensation when you move the tendon
- swelling, sometimes with heat or redness
Non-urgent advice: Go to a minor injuries unit or see a GP if:
- your symptoms do not improve within a few weeks
- you're in a lot of pain
- you think you have ruptured (torn) a tendon
If the pain is sudden and severe, and happened during an accident or activity, you may have ruptured a tendon. You might have heard a popping or snapping sound when the pain started.
If your tendon is ruptured, you may be referred to a specialist for assessment.
You may be referred to hospital for an X-ray or scan if your doctor thinks you may have another injury, such as a broken bone.
Treatment for tendonitis from a GP
A GP may prescribe a stronger painkiller or suggest you use a NSAID cream or gel on your skin to ease pain.
If the pain is severe, lasts a long time, or your movement is limited, you may be referred for physiotherapy. You can also choose to book appointments privately.
If physiotherapy does not help, you may be referred to a doctor who specialises in muscles and bones (orthopaedic specialist) or a local musculoskeletal clinic.
Some people with severe tendonitis may be offered:
- steroid injections, which may provide short-term pain relief (this cannot be offered for problems with the achilles tendon)
- shockwave therapy, which may help with healing
- platelet rich plasma injections (PRP), which may help with healing
- surgery to remove damaged tissue or repair a ruptured tendon
Preventing tendon problems
Tendonitis is usually caused by sudden, sharp movements or repetitive exercise, such as running, jumping or throwing.
Tendonitis can also be caused by repetitive movements, or having poor posture or technique while at work or when playing a sport. This is known as repetitive strain injury (RSI).
You cannot always prevent tendonitis. But there are things you can do to help reduce the chance of a tendon injury.
warm up before exercising and gently stretch afterwards
wear supportive shoes for exercise, or insoles
take regular breaks from repetitive exercises
do not over-exercise tired muscles
do not start a new sport without some training or practice
do not do the same repetitive exercises
Video: what is tendonitis?
This animation explains what tendonitis is and what causes it.
Media review due: 1 April 2024
Page last reviewed: 15 July 2020
Next review due: 15 July 2023