What Is Tendinitis?
Tendinitis is one of the most common kinds of knee pain. The good news: It's easily treated.
By Jan Sheehan
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Got knee pain? If you’re an athlete or fitness enthusiast, you may have tendinitis. “Many people who participate in sports or fitness activities will get tendinitis at one time or another,” says Steven Stuchin, MD, director of orthopaedic surgery at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. The result can be severe knee pain.
What Is Tendinitis?
Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendon, a flexible band of tissue that connects the muscles to the bones. The pull of the muscles is transmitted to the bone by the tendons, which allows movement. When the tendons are inflamed, the pulling action of the muscle is impaired and movement becomes painful. There are several large tendons around the knee area. When one or more of them becomes inflamed, this is called knee tendinitis.
Tendinitis Symptoms and Risk Factors
“Pain with movement is the most common symptom of knee tendinitis,” says Dr. Stuchin. Moving even slightly can cause severe knee pain. The pain will be worse when running, walking fast, or going up and down stairs. There may also be swelling from the inflammation.
Overuse is a common risk factor for tendinitis. When the tendon is stretched repeatedly by doing the same kind of exercise over a long period of time, the tendon can become strained and inflamed. Runners often get tendinitis for this reason. Tendinitis can also be caused by intense exercise over a short period of time. “Someone who tries to get in all their exercise over the weekend is a prime candidate for tendinitis,” says Stuchin. Being middle age or older is another risk factor. Tendons become more brittle with age, making them vulnerable to stress and strain.
Another type of knee pain caused by tendinitis is called jumper’s knee. In this type of tendinitis, injury to the knee occurs with jumping activities when too much strain is placed on the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap (patella) to the shinbone. Pain is felt directly over the patellar tendon. “You’ll feel pain just below the kneecap,” says Stuchin. There may be inflammation too. Jumper’s knee is common among basketball and volleyball players.
Tendinitis doesn’t normally require a doctor's care. Follow these recommendations to relieve the knee pain.
- Rest.Refrain from the activity that caused the tendinitis. “The more you work the tendon by running or jumping, the worse the injury will become and the longer recovery will take,” says Stuchin.
- Ice.Apply ice wrapped in a towel for 15 minutes once or twice a day. Ice helps reduce swelling, which will lessen knee pain and speed healing of the tendon.
- Elevate.Lie down and place your knee on a pillow so that it’s higher than your heart. This will aid blood flow and help reduce swelling.
- Take OTC medicine.“I recommend taking over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen,” says Stuchin. “They not only relieve pain, but they also reduce swelling.” Advil, Motrin, and Aleve are examples of these medications.
- Compress.Wrapping the knee in an elastic knee bandage can help reduce swelling and ease knee pain.
- Ease back into activity.After your tendinitis disappears, don’t immediately go back to the same level of activity that caused your knee pain. Overdoing it can cause a recurrence of tendinitis. Warm up and stretch before beginning exercise. Then go slowly for a few weeks.
Recovering from tendinitis requires patience. With proper care, the knee pain will become less noticeable in about three weeks, but complete healing from tendinitis may require six weeks, says Stuchin. By taking it easy for a month or so, your tendinitis should disappear and you’ll be on the go again.
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