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The diagnosis of tendinitis is one of the more common problems seen in orthopedics. ‘Tendinitis’ is a very general term, meaning inflammation of a tendon. A tendon is the structure that connects a muscle to a bone. When a muscle tightens, or contracts, the tendon pulls on the bone, causing motion through the joint. A specific example is the Achilles tendon. The calf muscle contracts, the Achilles tendon pulls on the heel bone, and the ankle joint moves. Every time you move a muscle, a tendon is moving, so this action happens millions of times a day. The problem occurs when you perform a specific movement repeatedly and tissues start to become fatigued. As they start to fatigue, they can become irritated, and then the process of inflammation starts.
Certain high-stress areas are prone to tendinitis. The ankle can develop Achilles tendinitis, the shoulder is prone to rotator cuff tendinitis, and the elbow can develop extensor tendinitis (tennis elbow). The biceps is a unique muscle, because it has tendons at the shoulder and the elbow, so biceps tendinitis can occur at either joint.
The treatment for tendinitis is directed at decreasing the inflammation. This is usually done conservatively through medications (anti-inflammatories), physical therapy, and, occasionally, steroid injections. The majority of tendinitis problems will resolve within six weeks of treatment. If these measures don’t work, surgery may be the only alternative. Surgery is directed at decreasing whatever is casing irritation to the tendon, and is specific to the injured tendon.
Dr. Jason Rudolph is an orthopedic surgeon at Coordinated Health who specializes in foot and ankle reconstruction and sports injuries.