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6-minute read

Key facts

  • Tendinitis (also called tendonitis or tendinopathy) is an inflamed tendon.
  • Tendons are the bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones and help the body to move.
  • Tendinitis is usually caused by repeated excessive use and load on a particular tendon.
  • The main symptoms of tendinitis are pain, reduced motion, swelling and weakness.
  • Tendinitis often gets better with rest, but treatment may be needed if the pain persists.

What is tendinitis?

Tendinitis (also called tendonitis or tendinopathy) is an inflamed tendon. Tendons are the bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones and help the body to move.

Tendinitis can develop in many places in the body but is most common in the shoulder (rotator cuff), elbow (triceps tendon), wrist and ankles (Achilles tendon).

It can be acute (sudden onset), such as tendinitis caused by a sports injury, or chronic (longer term), when a tendon gradually deteriorates, usually due to overuse or repeated movements.

What are the symptoms of tendinitis?

The main symptoms of tendinitis include:

  • pain and tenderness in the affected tendon, which is often worse when you move it
  • swelling
  • a grating sensation as the tendon moves
  • a lump on the tendon
  • weakness in the affected area
  • decreased range of motion

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes tendinitis?

Tendinitis is usually caused by repeated excessive use and load on a particular tendon. This overuse injury is often seen in athletes who repeatedly use a tendon without giving enough time for it to recover.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have symptoms of tendinitis that don’t get better after a few days of rest, you should seek medical attention.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is tendinitis diagnosed?

Diagnosis of tendinitis is usually straightforward. A doctor is likely to examine the affected area and ask about how you injured the tendon. Imaging tests such as MRI and ultrasounds may also help with the diagnosis, but are not always necessary.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is tendinitis treated?

The condition often gets better with rest, but treatment may be needed if the pain persists. The best treatment will depend on which tendon is affected.

Tendinitis usually only lasts a few days but can last for longer. If you have a sore tendon, it’s important to rest it. You can apply ice packs and take pain-relief medication, and in some cases, using a brace can be helpful.

To prevent swelling, avoid hot baths, heat packs, alcohol and massages for the first few days. When it’s not painful, try to keep moving so the tendon doesn’t become stiff.

Rehabilitation exercises, as suggested by a doctor or physiotherapist, may also help you recover full movement and function.

If the problem does not get better, you may need treatments such as shock wave therapy (a physiotherapy technique), and injections of corticosteroids or other medicines to reduce inflammation. In a small number of cases, surgery may be required.

Can tendinitis be prevented?

If you’ve had tendinitis before, you can help prevent further injury by using the following techniques:

  • Warming up and cooling down, before and after exercising.
  • Learning correct techniques if you play a sport.
  • Strengthening muscles in the affected area.

You may also need an ergonomic assessment of your workspace, which may include an adjustment of your chair, keyboard and desktop positions. This may help protect your joints and tendons from excessive strain.

Complications of tendinitis

Severe tendinitis can take many months or even years to fully heal. This slow recovery time can be very challenging and frustrating, especially for athletes who are hoping to return to their sport, or if tendinitis affects your daily activities.

Resources and support

The Emergency Care Institute provides a fact sheet about the causes, symptoms and treatment of tendinitis of the elbow.

Visit The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) to learn how physiotherapy can help your injuries, and how to find a physiotherapist.

Call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for more information and advice.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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