As muscle builders push their bodies to the limits muscle injuries become more common. Tendonitis is becoming an increasing problem for professional bodybuilders and gym user alike. But like so many muscle building related injuries, tendonitis can be (almost) prevented and treated to full recovery. Tendonitis often starts out as a small insignificant pain in a joint so it's often ignored. But left untreated tendonitis can be untreatable and may stop you from training. The aim of this article is to spread awareness about tendonitis so it can be treated early and completely rehabilitated.
How tendonitis occurs.
A tendon is the end part of a muscle that attaches the muscle to the bone. The normally very elastic and soft muscle tapers off at the end to form the much more dense and stiff tendon. While this density makes the tendons stronger, the lack of elasticity of the tendon and the constant pulling on its attachment to the bone with movement, makes it much more susceptible to a low level of tearing. This tearing will produce 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 guy who has been training his biceps with heavy curls for a few years may experience tendonitis in the biceps, elbow or wrist.
Where does tendonitis occur?
Tendonitis is most likely to occur in the areas of your body that you use the most. So for bodybuilders, these are the most likely places you'll experience tendonitis:
- Knee joint
Other areas where tendonitis occurs include the hips and ankles. As these areas are not commonly put under too much pressure tendonitis is much less likely. The most common place for tendonitis to occur is in the arms (biceps, elbows and triceps).
Tendonitis is often ignored by weight trainers because it starts off with only a slight pain and stiffness in the affected area. Most lifters just write this off as stiffness from a heavy training session. Usually with tendonitis the pain will get worse over time. After you have finished your workout the pain with be the worst and the following day expect stiffness tightness in the area. If the pain is in a joint, you may have trouble extending the joint fully. It is also common to feel the pain when the affected area is under strain, ie when you're lifting weights.
What do I do if I think I have tendonitis?
See a doctor. If the pain occurs after every workout and you can feel it on rest days it's best to go a see a doctor (preferably a sports doctor) immediately. If tendonitis goes untreated for too long it may become permanent. Even if you are unsure, you should consult a doctor. You may have to stop working the muscle for a few weeks but that's much better than having a permanent injury!
With the correct care for the area, the pain in the tendon should lessen over 3-4 weeks, but it should be noted that the healing of the area continues and doesn't even peak until at least 6 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 6 weeks in some cases and as long as a year in severe cases. After 6 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 areas of the tendon that are being pulled on during use. It is important to loosen up the tendon, lessen the pain, and minimize any inflammation.
This can be done with the use of medicated creams, ice and anti-inflammatory agents. These treatments can reduce swelling, relieve pain and dilate the blood vessels. Cortisone injections can reduce inflammation, but unfortunately are very caustic and can cause a weakening of the tendon structure and a create more scar tissue.
After the scar tissue has begun to accumulate, it's important to perform procedures that break down the scar tissue in the tendon tissue, so as to let the tendon and muscle regain it's normal flexibility and lessen the chance of further injury. The tendon is still very fragile so in the initial stages only light stretching can be performed. Then the patient may move on to a daily routine of light exercises and stretching depending on the tendon soreness and pain.
How to prevent tendonitis.
Prevention of tendonitis is easy, and everyone who's lifting weights should be doing this by default. First, you need to stretch your muscles regularly. This means before you work the muscle you should be stretching it fully. Make sure you hold the stretch tight for at least 20 seconds to fully stretch the muscle. You should also stretch your muscle either immediately after the exercise or after your workout.
Second it's very important you warm up each muscle before working it. You should be doing this anyway! Yet I see so many people in the gym just jump straight into it. At the beginning of your workout you should be stretching and warming up all the muscles you plan to work. In addition to this, make sure you do at least 1 light weight high rep set of the exercise you are about to do. This will get your muscle ready for the movement and lessen the chance of injury.
To wrap things up I would just like to say that tendonitis should not be as bigger problem as it is in gyms around the globe. You can severely limit your chance of getting tendonitis by simply stretching and warming up properly. If you are over the age of 35 you are at higher risk, so this especially concerns you. If you think you have tendonitis, stop working out and head down to the doctors. It might be nothing, but it could be serious. Do you want to risk it?