Health Hub

Proactive Healthcare

How Can You Prevent Tendinitis From Cramping Your Style?

How Can You Prevent Tendinitis From Cramping Your Style?

Nothing interrupts a workflow as badly as the dull ache of tendinitis. It's an experience I'm unfortunately all too familiar with. I was three weeks into a tough assignment for a television show. I spent long hours clicking away at a badly adjusted desk with whatever chair I could find. I spent exactly no time thinking about my wrist. Then, one day around lunch break, my wrist began to ache. I dismissed the pain. If you’ve ever suspected you had symptoms of tendinitis, this experience may sound familiar.

The sad fact for most of us is that we don’t think about our bodies until we have actually experienced serious discomfort. The easiest way to avoid long-term issues such as repetitive strain injury, tendinitis, or its close relative, tendinopathy, is understanding its root causes. Knowledge is power so let’s build up your knowledge base!

What Exactly is Tendinitis?

  • Tendinitis is swelling or inflammation of the tendons (those thick cords of fiber that attach your muscles and bones) 
  • Symptoms include: discomfort like a dull ache when you move the affected limb or joint, tenderness in the joint, and mild swelling 
  • You may have heard it described as: tennis elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, or jumper’s knee
  • It is possible to get tendinitis in any of your joints but the ones you (mis)use regularly are most at risk

In this section you learn about the specifics of my old enemy, wrist tendinitis. Much of what is discussed is applicable across different cases although if you’re in doubt make a doctors appointment.

Seven Symptoms of Wrist Tendinitis

1. Discomfort: burning sensations or stabbing sensations that might build to a throbbing ache over time. Pressure on the affected tendon will cause a sharp pain.

2. Weakness: physical activity of the arm will be affected and you may be weakened by the discomfort. You won’t be able to manage the same levels of weight as before the tendinitis occured. Lifting heavy objects, pushing up on armrest or even just typing can trigger discomfort. 

3. Swelling: irritated tissue near the wrist will swell the joint making it harder to move through a range of motion. This swelling may extend to the forearm or hand if your muscles are affected. 4

4. Muscle Fatigue/Cramps: Muscles in the forearm may cramp as they help compensate for the wrist’s lack of movement. 

5. Tearing: You may hear a ‘popping’ or ‘cracking’ sound as you move the wrist. This comes from tendons moving against muscle. 

6. Numbness: In some cases an affected tendon can pinch or irritate a nerve close by leading to a loss of sensation. This often happens in one or more fingers and can be an indicator of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

7. Depression or Anxiety: Decreases in pain tolerance can lower mood overall whilst increasing irritability and stress. Anticipation of irritation from physical activity can make people feel anxious and frustrated.  

Now you are informed of the general outlook of tendinitis and the symptoms to look out for we can take a look at some of the other health conditions that overlap and are often confused with tendinitis. We’ll start with a wrist problem almost as common (although not as severe) as tendinitis; the repetitive strain injury. 

Repetitive Strain Injury vs Tendinitis

What is a repetitive strain injury and how is it different from the tendinitis we defined in the last section? Think of repetitive strain injury as an umbrella term for several pain sources in the wrist:

Three Most Common Causes of Repetitive Strain Injury in the Wrist

1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A painful issue that comes from compression of a nerve as it passes through the wrist.

2. Wrist Tendinitis: Swelling of the tissues (tendons) connecting muscle to bone in the wrist.

3. Wrist Bursitis: Stemming from the inflammation of small fluid sacks in the wrist joint sitting between tendon and bone to help lubricate movement. 

Although it may feel like your wrist, we’ve left ‘smart phone elbow’ (cubital tunnel syndrome) off the list. Personally, my phone is the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I turn off at night. I’d like to blame that on having family in other time zones but it’s probably just a symptom of being a millennial. Infinite scrolling and tapping on phones and computers means that nerves in the arm can become trapped, compressed, and irritated. This pressure leads to numbness, elbow discomfort, and cramps in the fingers (mostly thumb) as well as wrist. All of this combined is just one more reason to try and limit your phone time to three hours or less a day!

the constant and repetitive pressure used on mobile devices can lead to repetitive strain injury

For all repetitive strain injuries, the discomfort profile is the same; each ranges from sharp tenderness to a continuous dull ache. Each type of repetitive strain injury has specific and detailed action plans that will vary by patient. Diagnosis can be an extremely detailed process involving scanning and MRI. 

As a former sufferer, I would suggest not waiting for the discomfort to develop before you consult a doctor. What happens if you are waiting for a doctor's appointment or are just worried that you might be developing symptoms? When my wrist began to hurt while working in the office, I was looking for immediate relief. After a little trial and error on my part, I found some solutions that provided relief. Here are five self-help suggestions for wrist discomfort caused by a repetitive strain injury:

Five Self Help Suggestions for Coping with Repetitive Strain Injury

1. WORK BACKWARDS: Isolate the action that you think is the cause of your repetitive strain injury. Obviously, you don’t want to stop being productive and it might be almost impossible to do your job and avoid the action. However, by isolating it you can look to change your environment and make it more ‘ergonomic’ (that means arranging your workspace to support your health). Relatively small things like wrist supporting mouse pads and keyboards can make a world of difference to your discomfort level. 

2. BREAK AND STRETCH: Taking regular breaks (especially from the most aggravating activity for your injury) help you manage repetitive strain in the long term. Stretching will help you improve posture and strengthen supporting muscles to help you compensate for the injured area working less well. 

3. WRIST BRACE: This is especially important in the early stages of a repetitive strain injury by providing extra support and comfort. A wrist brace saved me while I was swapping out office furniture and making changes to a standing desk.

4. COLD THERAPY: This is the fancy way of saying make sure you have an ice/cold pack on hand. This will decrease swelling and inflammation in the worst affected area. 

Repetitive strain injury is the overarching umbrella term, but now we’re going to drill deeper into what happens if you prolong the mistake that I initially made by ignoring the discomfort. In the next section we’ll consider how the particular repetitive strain injury of tendinitis can morph over time to tendinopathy.

The Lasting Damage of Tendinitis: Tendinopathy

One of my biggest fears (and what prompted me to treatment) in injuring my wrist was that I would do lasting damage to my body that was hard to repair; tendinopathy is an example of that kind of damage. 

Tendinopathy: Causes, Symptoms and Management

  • Causes: The tendons that link your muscles and bones are like ropes made out of the protein collagen. Tendinopathy, sometimes called tendinosis, is the breakdown of that collagen bedrock in the tendon.
  • Symptoms: burning pain, loss of flexibility and the range of motion in your wrist. It’s a fairly common mistake for people to use ‘tendinopathy’ and ‘tendinitis’ interchangeably because the discomfort profile is pretty much the same. Different things are happening in your body with both.
  • Healing: when it comes to the body long-term thinking is the key. Aging and loss of muscle tone are factors that contribute to tendinopathy so lifestyle plays a role. Ideally, supporting anti-inflammation in the body through diet and holistic medical practices can help avoid tendinopathy.

The key thing to remember is that tendinitis, while painful, is an inflammation response. Tendinopathy is longer-term and harder to recover from - serious damage is being inflicted on the tendons. Experts are starting to believe that tendinopathy is actually way more common than the reported cases. It’s harder to spot and diagnose than a case of tendinitis.

Three Routes to Healing Tendinopathy

1. LIFESTYLE: Getting regular exercise that strengthens and sustains muscles and tendons is a great and practical start. Eating a balanced diet with strong anti-inflammatory properties can make a huge impact. 

2. PHYSICAL THERAPY: Complicated injuries that involve damage or compromised tendons can always benefit from a qualified physical therapist’s expertise. They can instruct and supervise you in gentle exercises to promote muscle growth and support tendon healing. Your doctor can refer you. 

3. HOME REMEDIES: If you think of lifestyle as the medium to long term this is very much the short term category. Cold packs to reduce inflammation, pillows to elevate the wrist and braces all fit into this category. 

For a small number of patients there might be another route through tendon surgery but that would have to be decided by you and your doctor. Ultimately, it’s better to avoid tendinopathy altogether than to have to actively manage discomfort long term.

Anticipating the symptoms of repetitive strain injuries, tendinitis, and tendinopathy as well as changing your habits holistically to avoid them can spare you plenty of discomfort down the road. No matter how far advanced your symptoms are, there’s always hope if you do the hard work of changing your habits. 

Do you have any experience of repetitive strain injury, tendinitis or tendinopathy? Head to the comments below to add your most helpful discomfort management tips!

Upgraid Monthly
Shop Upgraid
Perform: Daily Inflammation*
Return your body to a healthy state of inflammation with fully organic ingredients, all achieved without synthetic chemicals.
Turmeric, Ashwagandha, Tart Cherry + Ginger Root
Starting at $35.09
Control: Glucose*
Moderate the peaks and valleys of your blood sugar, while balancing your energy and mood.
Chromium, Salacia, Amla Extract, Shilajit
Starting at $35.09