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First Aid & Emergencies

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Tendon Injury (Tendinopathy) - Topic Overview

The heel and elbow joints are common sites of tendon injuries. For more information about tendon injuries in these areas, see the topics Achilles Tendon Problems and Tennis Elbow.

This topic does not address severe tendon tears or ruptures. To help you assess a tendon injury, see the topic Shoulder Problems and Injuries, Elbow Injuries, Knee Problems and Injuries, Finger, Hand, and Wrist Injuries, or Toe, Foot, and Ankle Injuries.

Tendons are the tough fibers that connect muscle to bone. For example, the Achilles tendon camera.gif connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. Most tendon injuries occur near joints, such as the shoulder, elbow, knee, and ankle. A tendon injury may seem to happen suddenly, but usually it is the result of many tiny tears to the tendon that have happened over time.

Doctors may use different terms to describe a tendon injury. You may hear:

  • Tendinitis. This means "inflammation of the tendon."
  • Tendinosis. This refers to tiny tears in the tissue in and around the tendon caused by overuse.

Most experts now use the term tendinopathy to include both inflammation and microtears. But for many years most tendon problems were called "tendinitis." Many doctors still use this familiar word to describe a tendon injury.

Most tendon injuries are the result of gradual wear and tear to the tendon from overuse or aging. Anyone can have a tendon injury. But people who make the same motions over and over in their jobs, sports, or daily activities are more likely to damage a tendon.

A tendon injury can happen suddenly or little by little. You are more likely to have a sudden injury if the tendon has been weakened over time.

Tendinopathy usually causes pain, stiffness, and loss of strength in the affected area.

  • The pain may get worse when you use the tendon.
  • You may have more pain and stiffness during the night or when you get up in the morning.
  • The area may be tender, red, warm, or swollen if there is inflammation.
  • You may notice a crunchy sound or feeling when you use the tendon.

The symptoms of a tendon injury can be a lot like those caused by bursitis.

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