Tendonitis vs Tendinopathy
Tendonitis and tendinopathy are not the same and this is important to note because treatment is not the same either.
The tough, flexible bands of fibrous tissue throughout the body that attach muscles to bones are tendons. In sports, they can easily become irritated or inflamed from the stress of repeated movements, or an acute injury such as a missed step or impacts from falls and collisions.
What Is Tendonitis?
Tendonitis (also spelled tendinitis) refers to an inflammation of the tendons because it is irritated and inflamed. Tendinitis can cause deep, nagging pain that limits easy, comfortable movements.
The most common cause of tendinitis is an acute injury that forces a tendon to stretch beyond its normal range of motion and causes pain, swelling, and inflammation.
What Is Tendinopathy?
Tendinopathy is used to describe many tendon injuries, such as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, Achilles tendon injuries, etc. Experts now recognize that typical tendon injuries are more often caused by long-term overuse that results in a deterioration of the tendon without any associated inflammation.
The Difference Between the Two
The distinction between the two conditions is important because the inflammation of tendinitis is treated differently than the deterioration of tendinopathy (tendinosis). Inflammation from acute tendonitis often responds quickly to medications and anti-inflammatory treatment. However, if the injury is due to tendon tissue degeneration, treatment may be quite lengthy and will be focused on improving the strength of the tendon and rebuilding tissues.
Sometimes tendinitis or tendinopathy can develop due to improper sports technique or biomechanical issues, in which case working with a coach, trainer, or PT is the best way to prevent a chronic problem from developing. Making sure to perform a proper warm-up and including enough cross-training is also helpful to prevent tendon overuse injuries.
Overuse injuries are the result of repetitive use, stress and trauma to the soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, bones, and joints) without proper time for healing. They are sometimes called cumulative trauma, or repetitive stress injuries.
If you have a sudden ache or pain in a tendon, and tendinitis is suspected the first thing to do is to stop activity and rest. Tendonitis will respond to rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This method helps decrease inflammation and swelling and bring temporary pain relief. This type of conservative treatment is generally all that is necessary to recover from a true tendonitis. Tendinitis usually resolves in a few days to a few weeks.
Unfortunately, it may take from two to six months to heal from a long-term tendinopathy. Many tendon injuries turn into chronic problems that gradually get worse because the athlete continues activity despite the nagging pain.
If your tendon pain lasts more than a few days despite rest and conservative treatment, you should see a physical therapist for evaluation and rehab of the tendon. Your PT will help determine the best rehab path for you, but it’s important to understand that beginning any exercises before the tendon has healed may make the problem worse, so it’s essential to follow your therapist’s recommendations.
If you can determine the cause of the tendon injury and make a correction, you can often avoid long-term problems. If your pain is from overuse, reduce or stop that activity and find a substitute activity. If the pain is from poor technique or poor ergonomics, consult PT for skills training. If you can eliminate the offending factors, you have a much greater likelihood of a full recovery.