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!