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Elbow Tendonitis

Like muscles themselves, tendons can become inflamed when subject to excessive stress. This condition, known as tendonitis, is probably the most familiar elbow ailment. Any activity that stretches the tendons beyond their usual range of motion can cause tendonitis. Engaging in sports or similar vigorous activities without first having warmed up and stretched the tendons can result in the condition. Tendonitis may also strike those who "overdo" a physical activity after an extended period of being sedentary.

Because the tendons lack the same pain nerve endings as other structures, you may not feel any pain due to tendonitis until the surrounding synovial membrane of the joint or the adjacent bursa also become inflamed. Typical symptoms then include:

  • A deep generalized ache in the area
  • An increase in pain when using the elbow
  • Localized tenderness

In some cases a tendon, like a muscle, may tear or rupture altogether as a result of trauma, leading to significant pain and spasm. This tearing produces the inflammation and irritation known as tendonitis. Tendonitis is usually seen after excessive repetitive movement with which the tendon gradually becomes tighter until the fibers start to tear. For example, a person who plays tennis may over-use the muscles of the elbow through hitting the ball repeatedly and thereby cause tendonitis to the area. This is commonly known at Tennis Elbow.


With proper care, the pain in the tendon should lessen over three weeks. Healing doesn't peak until at least six weeks following the initial injury. This is due to scar tissue formation, which initially acts like the glue to bond the tissue back together. Scar tissue will continue to form past six weeks in some cases and as long as a year in severe cases. After six months, this condition is considered chronic and much more difficult to treat.

The initial approach to treating tendonitis is to support and protect the tendons by bracing any area of the tendon that is being pulled on during use.

  • Professionally designed elbow braces and supports can provide relief from pain and also reduce the likelihood of reinjury.
  • Specialized braces for tennis elbow are usually very effective at applying compression and reducing pain.
  • Topical pain gels such as Sombra and Kool N Fit can help loosen up the tendon and lessen the pain.

Additional Treatment

For the first day or so after the appearance of minor elbow pain, an elbow ice pack such as the one from Activewrap should be applied. The ice reduces the pain temporarily and may reduce or prevent swelling. To avoid harming the skin or underlying tissue, the ice should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes at a time, with 20 to 40 minutes between applications.

After a period of using ice, elbow moist heat, applied to the elbow in a 20-minute-on/20-minute-off cycles can be beneficial. Moist heat tends to relax tense, strained muscle fibers, offering some relief from pain and stiffness.

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