Like simple muscle soreness from overuse, tendinitis—inflammation in or around a tendon—can be painful. But where simple muscle soreness is temporary, tendinitis is tenacious. It's soreness that doesn't go away with a few hours' rest and an ice pack.
The situation isn't hopeless, insists the American Physical Therapy Association's Bob Mangine. "But if you continue to use the tendon in the same repetitive motion that triggered the problem in the first place, it's going to be very difficult to get better." That applies to everyone from world-class marathoners to window washers and typists.
Still, it's possible to lessen the effects of tendinitis and prevent intense flare-ups, says Mangine. The key, he says, is unlocking your mind and freeing yourself to change some of your old ways.
If you only feel the pain of tendinitis during or after exercise, and if it isn't too bad, you may be thinking that you could run a race or swim laps with that same amount of pain—if you had to. Or maybe you already have.
In either case, you would be wise to realign your thinking. "You shouldn't play through pain unless your physician or physical therapist tells you otherwise," says the American Physical Therapy Association's Bob Mangine.
If pain is severe and you continue to abuse the tendon, it may rupture, says trainer Bob Reese. That could mean a long layoff, surgery, or even permanent disability.
In other words, exercising through tendon pain today could mean staying on the sidelines for the remainder of your tomorrows. To err on the safe side, back off if you're in pain, and see a physician if your pain is persistent.
Scott Donkin, D.C., is a partner in the Chiropractic Associates in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is also an industrial consultant, providing tips on exercise to reduce stress for workstation users, and the author of Sitting on the Job.
Terry Malone, Ed.D., P.T., is a professor of physical therapy at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Bob Mangine is chairman of the American Physical Therapy Association's sports physical therapy section. He is the lead physical therapist and trainer for the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. He is also national director of physical therapy sports residency in NovoCare, and the author of Physical Therapy of the Knee.
Edward C. Percy, M.D., is an associate professor emeritus of surgery and physiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.
Bob Reese is the former head trainer for the New York Jets and past president of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. He is now an associate professor at the Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Virginia.