Tendinitis and tendinosis. One you’ve probably heard before. The other, probably not. While they both sound the same, in reality they are worlds apart. Let’s compare.
Tendinitis is, by definition, inflammation of a tendon. Tendinosis on the other hand is defined as chronic tendinitis and implies chronic tendon degeneration without the presence of inflammation. Basically, one is short-term with inflammation, the other long-term, without inflammation, though both are caused typically by overuse.
Tendinitis, the most popular diagnosis of the two, usually presents with swelling and tenderness at the sight of pain, often accompanied by stiffness, and less often by weakness. Tendinosis presents most often with stiffness, tenderness to the touch, and weakness–almost identical to tendinitis. Recovery of tendinitis lasts anywhere from days to six weeks, a relatively “quick fix.” Tendinosis recovery can last a few short weeks to a couple months or more depending on the level of degeneration. If left untreated, tendinosis often leads to “tear” injuries.
While both conditions are classically treated with conservative measures, the difference in care is absolutely critical to resolution of the problem. Conservative management stems around rest and anti-inflammatory medication for tendinitis, while conservative management of tendinosis aims to restore tendon regrowth and strength through manual therapy and eccentric exercise.
Tendinitis and tendinosis, both, occur most often in the Achilles tendon (ankle), patellar tendon (knee), proximal hamstring (high hamstring), common extensor tendon (elbow), and the supraspinatus tendon (shoulder).
With both of these problems being so relatively close, while treatment is vastly different, proper diagnosis is vital to the recovery process! So which one do you have? Let’s go to the research.
While tendinitis is the wildly over-popular diagnosis among general practitioners, it may not be the case. Most research coming out on this topic is now showing that at a cellular level, once believed tendinitis actually is, in fact, tendinosis.
According to Almekinders and Temple, “Most currently practicing general practitioners were taught, and many still believe, that patients who present with overuse tendinitis have a largely inflammatory condition and will benefit from anti-inflammatory medication. Unfortunately this dogma is deeply entrenched. Ten of 11 readily available sports medicine texts specifically recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs despite the lack of clinical evidence.”
In light of this, chances are that if you have been diagnosed with tendinitis the diagnosis was incorrect. Furthermore, traditional, conservative treatment, of such, with the use of anti-inflammatories, corticosteroid injections, and/or pain medication may have left you worse off long term even though pain may have dissipated short term (but this conversation is for a different time). These methods were designed to eliminate inflammation, not regrow tendon. As mentioned above, treatment of tendinosis should be aimed at restoring tendon function and strength through manual therapy and eccentric exercise. Drugs will not help! Treatment should also include load management when deemed necessary.
With all this said, while we cannot assume a tendinitis diagnosis was incorrect, lingering, worsening, or reoccurrence of pain would suggest that it may in fact be tendinosis. It is recommended that treatment plans geared toward tendinitis, in these cases, be reevaluated.
Tendinitis is one of the most commonly diagnosed injuries and all too many struggle to find relief. With the proper diagnosis and treatment plan, it doesn’t have to be that way!
– Cody Scharf, D.C., Davenport ’04
Originally posted on Dr. Scharf’s blog. Republished with permission.
Almekinders LC, Temple JD. Etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of tendonitis: an analysis of the literature.Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998;30:1183–1190.