Last updated:

Reviewed by:

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Tendonitis is when a tendon (tissue that connects muscle to bone) becomes inflamed after it’s been injured. It can cause varying degrees of pain and make it difficult to move the joint. Learn more about the symptoms and how it’s treated.

What is tendonitis?

When a tendon gets damaged, it can become inflamed and cause tendonitis. This can happen to any tendon in the body, though some areas are more likely to be affected than others. Some of the most frequent places to get tendonitis are:

Foot – There are 3 common kinds of tendonitis in the foot area. 

  1. Peroneal tendonitis may cause pain around the outside of the ankle

  2. Extensor tendonitis may cause pain on the top of the foot

  3. Achilles tendonitis may cause pain at the back of the ankle, where the achilles tendon is found.

Elbow – Tendonitis can occur on both the left and right parts of your elbow. This can be caused by repetitive wrist and finger movements.

Shoulder – You may feel pain from tendonitis on the outer part of your shoulder and can move several inches below the top of the shoulder. This may make it difficult to sleep comfortably.

Knee – A tendon just below the kneecap is also a frequent site of injury. You may feel pain in the knee or below it – this can be caused by repetitive jumping for example playing volleyball.

What are the symptoms of tendonitis?

Tendonitis symptoms can differ from person to person, and someone may not have all of them. The most common are:

  • Pain at the site of injury, especially when moving the affected joint – people often describe this as a dull ache

  • Tenderness

  • Redness

  • Heat

  • Swelling (usually minor)

  • Difficulty moving the joint or a crackling feeling when its moved

What causes tendonitis?

The main cause of tendonitis is repetitive stress or damage to a joint. This damage could be caused by a host of factors including:

  • Strenuous physical activity e.g playing sport, especially with poor technique

  • Older age causing weaker tendons

  • Obesity

  • Infections

  • Jobs such as gardening or house cleaning

Some other medical conditions can increase your chance of tendonitis such as rheumatoid arthritis.

How is tendonitis diagnosed?

Usually a doctor can diagnose tendonitis by taking your medical history and performing tests by moving your joints in certain ways. If they suspect the tendon may be torn or if the joint is dislocated, they may rerefer you for scans such as an X-ray, MRI scan or an ultrasound.

How is tendonitis treated?

To treat tendonitis at home you can use the RICE method:

  • Rest – Try to limit how much you move the joint for a few days

  • Ice – Apply something cold to the area such as some ice cubes in a tea towel or frozen peas

  • Compress – If you have access to elastic bandages, try to wrap these around the area. Make sure they’re not too tight and do not sleep with them on. You can buy elastic bandages in most pharmacies

  • Elevate – Keep the joint above the level of your heart whenever possible to help to reduce swelling. 

Other tendonitis treatment options you can use alongside the RICE method include over-the-counter pain relief like paracetamol or ibuprofen – these may be sold as tablets or creams. Make sure you read the packaging to check how frequently these should be used or taken.  

If you see a doctor about your tendonitis there are a few treatments they can recommend. They may refer you to a physiotherapist who will give you exercises that may help with the pain, or inject steroids near the joint providing short-term pain relief. However, this cannot be done for achilles tendonitis.

How to prevent tendonitis

If you play sports, make sure you perform a proper warm up (5 minutes for every 30 minutes of exercise) before starting and if you haven’t played in a while, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity. You may also want to check you are using the correct technique for the sport you’re playing.

You can also try:

  • Making sure you use 2 hands with a firm grip when carrying heavy objects

  • Taking regular breaks from lifting any heavy objects

  • Take a break if something is causing you pain

  • Avoid repetitive motions

When should I seek help?

Usually, tendonitis can be managed at home and symptoms can improve within a few weeks, but if they don’t, you should see a GP or visit a minor injuries unit.

Here are some other times you may want to see a doctor:

  • If the cause of your injury was during an activity and the pain is sudden and very intense

  • If there was cracking or popping when you injured the joint

  • If you have a fever over 38 degrees

  • If you feel ill

  • If the place of injury is warm, swollen or red

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
undefined, Lead GP at Livi