Tendonitis vs. Tendinosis

9/13/2018 in Medical Conditions

A tendon is tissue that attaches muscle to bone.  It is flexible, tough, fibrous, and can withstand tension.  Tendons and muscles work together and exert a pulling force.  Tendons and ligaments are tough and fibrous, but they are known as soft tissue because they are soft compared with bone.

When a tendon is inflamed or irritated, it is referred to as Tendinitis.   Symptoms include pain (often described as a dull ache), which is increased when moving the affected joint, tenderness and mild swelling.  Different types of tendinitis affect different parts of the body, but for purposes of this blog we will focus on the upper extremities:

Supraspinatus tendinitis refers to inflammation of the tendon at the top of the shoulder joint causing pain when the arm is moved, especially upwards.  It may be painful to lie on the affected shoulder.  If other tendons in the same area are also affected, the diagnosis may be rotator cuff syndrome.

Tennis elbow otherwise known as lateral epicondylitis refers to pain on the outer side of the elbow which may radiate down towards the wrist. 

Golfer’s elbow, referred to as medial epicondylitis is pain on the inner side of the elbow which is more acute when trying to lift against a force and the pain may radiate down to the wrist.

De Quervain’s stenosing tenosynovitis is an inflammation of the sheath that surrounds the thumb tendons between the thumb and wrist.  The sheath thickens and swells, making it painful to move the thumb.

Trigger finger or thumb results in a clicking when straightening out the finger or thumb and becomes fixed in a bent position because the tendon sheath in the palm of the hand is thickened and inflamed.

Tendinitis of the wrist (or tendinopathy) mostly affects badminton players and production line workers who repeatedly use the same motion of the wrist.  This is a degenerative condition rather than an inflammation.

Tendinitis mostly arises from the repetition of a particular movement over time as opposed to a sudden injury.  For example, an occupation, hobby or sport that involve repetitive motions which puts stress on the tendons.  Age also increases the risk because as people age, their tendons become less flexible and easier to injure.

Most of the time tendinitis can be successfully treated with rest, physical therapy and medications (for pain reduction).  A full recovery can generally be expected within about six weeks.  However, if treatment is not successful and tendon irritation persists for several weeks or months, chronic tendinitis or tendinosis may develop. 

Often tendinosis is mistaken for tendinitis.  Tendinosis is a chronic injury which involves degenerative changes of tendon tissue and may also involve some inflammation.  Tendinosis is a long term chronic condition which can take 3-6 months to heal. 

So, in summary, there are many types of tendonitis which with proper rest and care can heal within about six weeks.  If not taken care of, tendonitis can turn into tendinosis which is chronic in nature and takes anywhere from 3-6 months to heal.

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