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Tendonitis and Tenosynovitis

What are tendonitis and tenosynovitis?

Tendons are strong cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Tendonitis is when a tendon is inflamed. It can happen to any tendon in the body. When a tendon is inflamed, it can cause swelling, pain, and discomfort. Another problem called tenosynovitis is linked to tendonitis. This is the inflammation of the lining of the tendon sheath around a tendon. Usually the sheath itself is inflamed, but both the sheath and the tendon can be inflamed at the same time.

What causes tendonitis and tenosynovitis?

The cause of tendonitis and tenosynovitis is often not known. They may be caused by strain, overuse, injury, or too much exercise. Tendonitis may also be related to a disease such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

Types of tendonitis and tenosynovitis

Common types of these tendon problems include:

  • Lateral epicondylitis. This is most often known as tennis elbow. It causes pain in the back side of the elbow and forearm, along the thumb side when the arm is alongside the body with the thumb turned away. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist back and away from the palm.

  • Medial epicondylitis. This is most often known as golfer's or baseball elbow.It causes pain from the elbow to the wrist on the palm side of the forearm. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm.

  • Rotator cuff tendonitis. This is also known as biceps tendonitis.It’s a shoulder disorder. It causes inflammation of the shoulder capsule and related tendons.

  • DeQuervain's tenosynovitis. This is the most common type of tenosynovitis disorder. It causes swelling in the tendon sheath of the tendons of the thumb.

  • Trigger finger or trigger thumb. This is a type of tenosynovitis. The tendon sheath becomes inflamed and thickened. This makes it hard to extend or flex the finger or thumb. The finger or thumb may lock or "trigger" suddenly.

Symptoms of tendonitis and tenosynovitis

Symptoms can occur differently in each person, but may include:

  • Pain in the tendon when moved

  • Swelling from fluid and inflammation

  • A grating feeling when moving the joint

The symptoms of tendonitis can be like other health problems. Make sure to talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Diagnosing tendonitis and tenosynovitis

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and give you a physical exam. You may have tests to check for other problems that may be causing your symptoms. The tests may include:

  • Joint aspiration. The healthcare provider uses a needle to take a small amount of fluid from the joint. The fluid is tested to check for gout or signs of an infection.

  • X-ray. A small amount of radiation is used to make an image. Tendons can’t be seen on an X-ray, but they can show bone. This test can check for arthritis.

Treatment for tendonitis and tenosynovitis

Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you  based on:

  • How old you are

  • Your overall health and past health

  • How mild or severe your condition is

  • How well you can handle certain medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • How long your problem is expected to last 

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Changing your activities

  • Icing the area to reduce inflammation and pain

  • Putting a splint on the area to limit movement

  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce inflammation and pain

  • Surgery

Online Medical Reviewer: Larson, Kim APRN, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 10/24/2013
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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