Tendons are crucial to movement. They connect your muscles to your bones and work with joints and cartilage to move bones, which aren’t exactly flexible. The human body is a wonder, but even the healthiest person can fall victim to tendinitis. Like a machine, the skeletal system is prone to snags with overuse—minus the relief of a quick fix like WD-40. Enter tendinitis, the plague of athletes and artists alike.
Tendinitis refers to the inflammation of—you guessed it—tendons and is generally caused by repeated joint motion. If you use your hands for a living, there’s a chance it’s going to hurt your wrists. Excessive use of your hands—writing, typing, drawing, sports or playing an instrument are common culprits—or legs can irritate your tendons. Sharp pain in your elbow (lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow), for example, is caused by inflammation in the extensor tendon. Technology can also be a factor: newer branches of tendinitis, like computer elbow and gamer’s thumb, have emerged, and I’d be lying if I said my iPhone had nothing to do with the pain in my forearms. Tendinitis can also occur in the legs, especially the knees, shins and ankles. (You know the Achilles heel? That’s a tendon.)
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First of all, you need to go easy on your tendons. The best way to combat tendinitis is to alter the way you use your extremities. Pinpoint the culprit and cut down where you can.
Much arm tendinitis can be relieved by adjustments in posture. If you spend all day on the computer, sit at a desk (or table) to maintain an upright position—your arms should tilt downward, allowing less stress. Typing while reclined, as on a couch or lying in bed, orients your elbows below your hands and makes your tendons work harder. If you’re constantly using technology, especially smartphones (who isn’t these days?), cutting down can also help. An easy way to adjust joint movement is investing in ergonomic technology. Ergonomic keyboards and pens (or wider pens) ease the stress on wrists and forearm tendons.
For tendinitis in your legs, rest is easier than adjustments. Be gentle. Don’t partake in any kind of exercise that could strain your knees or calves without an okay from a doctor. For patellar tendonitis, you’ll want to invest in a knee support or brace.
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Physical therapy, whether at home or with the assistance of a medical professional, is also an option. There are a number of wrist, knee and calf stretches you can do on your own. Strength training can help, too. Make sure to start gradually, as too much weight or force will exacerbate soreness. Use a cold compress on sensitive areas afterwards.
You’ll also need to combat the pain head-on. If you’d rather take a holistic approach, alternate between cold and heat therapy. Hot baths and epsom salts are a good trick for legs—for arms, baths require awkward leaning, but it’s still possible and feels divine. Heat patches offer great relief, but if the box says not to put them directly on your skin, obey the warning. From experience, I can tell you that sticking toe warmers directly on your skin can cause minor allergic flare-ups and rashes.
Low-grade painkillers are another good approach. Ibuprofen can work wonders, especially to reduce swelling, but for serious pain doctors can prescribe steroids or cream like Voltaren Gel. Surgery is an option, but only as a last resort. You’ll need to talk to a doctor, as surgery involves some risks.
Sarra Sedghi is the assistant editor of Paste Food and Paste Science. She has a lot of tendinitis in her arms.