Tendonitis (such as tennis elbow) is when a tendon swells up and becomes painful after a tendon injury. You can treat mild tendon injuries yourself and should feel better within 2 to 3 weeks.
How to treat tendonitis yourself
Follow the 4 steps known as RICE therapy for 2 to 3 days to help bring down swelling and support the injury:
- Rest – stop the exercise or activities that caused the injury until you feel better
- Ice – put an ice pack (you could use a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) on the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours
- Compress – wrap a bandage around the injury to support it
- Elevate – if possible, keep the injured area raised on a pillow when sitting or lying down
Media review due: 20 March 2021
To help prevent swelling during the first 2 to 3 days, try to avoid:
- heat, such as hot baths and heat packs
When you can move the injured area without pain stopping you, try to keep moving it so the tendon does not become stiff.
A pharmacist can help with tendonitis
A pharmacist can recommend the best painkiller. This might be tablets or a cream or gel you rub on the skin.
Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help to ease mild pain. Wait for 48 hours after your injury before taking ibuprofen, as it can slow down healing.
Check if it's tendonitis
There are tendons all over your body. They connect your muscles to bones, for example in your knees, elbows and shoulders.
The main symptoms of tendonitis are:
- pain in a tendon (for example, in your knee, elbow or shoulder) that gets worse when you move
- difficulty moving the tendon
- feeling a grating or crackling sensation when you move the tendon
- swelling, sometimes with heat or redness
- a lump along the tendon
There are many different types of tendonitis, depending on which area of the body is affected.
Types of tendonitis
|Affected area||Possible types of tendonitis|
|Knees||Patellar tendonitis (jumper's knee)|
|Elbows||Tennis elbow or golfer's elbow|
|Shoulders||Calcific tendonitis or supraspinatus tendonitis|
|Wrists and thumbs||De Quervain's disease|
|Upper arm||Biceps tendonitis|
Non-urgent advice: Go to a minor injuries unit or your 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
A ruptured tendon usually causes sudden and severe pain. You might hear a popping or snapping sound during the injury.
Treatment for tendonitis from a GP
Your doctor may prescribe a stronger painkiller or cream or gel to bring down the swelling.
If your injury is severe or lasts a long time, you may be offered physiotherapy. You can also choose to book appointments privately.
You may be referred to hospital for a scan if your doctor thinks you could have another injury, such as a broken bone.
Some people with long-term or severe tendonitis may be offered:
- steroid injections – which may provide short-term pain relief
- surgery – to remove damaged tissue or repair a ruptured tendon
- shockwave therapy – which may help speed up healing
- platelet rich plasma injections (PRP) – which may help speed up healing
You cannot always prevent tendonitis
Tendonitis is most often caused by sudden, sharp movements or repetitive exercise, such as running, jumping or throwing.
To help reduce your risk of tendon injuries:
- warm up before exercising and stretch afterwards
- wear suitable shoes for exercise
- take regular breaks from repetitive exercises
- do not overexercise tired muscles
- do not start a new sport without some training or practise
- do not stick to the same repetitive exercises
Tendonitis can also be caused by repetitive movements or having poor posture at work, such as when using a keyboard and mouse. This is known as repetitive strain injury (RSI).
Media review due: 14 April 2021
Page last reviewed: 9 November 2017
Next review due: 9 November 2020