Is your elbow sore? Are your fingers achy and not moving smoothly and comfortably? If so, you may be suffering from a common musculoskeletal condition called tendonitis.
What is Tendonitis?
Tendons are bands of durable collagen fibers; their role is to connect muscles to bones and help facilitate proper anatomical movement and support. The suffix -itis is a telltale clue that tendonitis is primarily an issue of inflammation.
When something stresses or overloads the tendons, small microtears in the tend fibers can occur, leading to tissue damage, inflammation, and pain, and related symptoms.
Common Causes & Types of Tendonitis in the Elbow & Hand
Tendonitis can affect tendons all over the body—such as in the case of Achilles (in the ankle), patellar (in the knee), or biceps tendonitis (in the shoulder). When it occurs in the elbow or hand, basic daily tasks like writing, grooming, and even opening doors and jars can become challenging.
This is common among people who perform a lot of repetitive movement with their hands. They may lift, move, or manipulate objects too frequently or too quickly, or may lift objects which are too heavy relative to their general physical capacity.
Such stress and strain on the tendons is common among athletes, particularly those who play sports like tennis, golf, racquetball, baseball, field hockey, and badminton. Indeed, elbow tendonitis is so common among golfers and tennis players that their sports-specific manifestations are actually called golfer’s elbow (tendonitis in the inner elbow) and tennis elbow (tendonitis in the outer elbow).
Sometimes, the presence of some other underlying condition, such as an autoimmune disease like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause or increase a person’s risk for tendonitis. Cigarette use may also increase a person’s risk for this and other musculoskeletal conditions, since smoking tends to increase inflammation in the body. Additional risk factors include poor body mechanics, direct trauma, and even the use of certain antibiotics.
Signs & Symptoms
Common symptoms of the elbow or hand affected include:
- Pain (often sore and achy) at rest and with movement
- Tenderness over the affected area
- Decreased grip strength
- Decreased ability to lift, move, turn, or manipulate objects
- The feeling of popping or clicking (particularly if tendonitis is in the hand and fingers)
The Benefits of Hand Therapy for Upper Extremity Tendonitis
Hand therapy can be extremely beneficial if you’re struggling with tendonitis. Unlike conventional medications—which can provide much-needed pain relief but may also come with unwanted side effects—hand therapy addresses symptoms and root causes of inflammation and tendon damage. In this way, relief is more thorough and longer-lasting.
Hand Therapy Techniques That We Might Use
- Therapeutic exercises, prescribed to facilitate tissue healing, reduced inflammation, and (later in the recovery process) improved strength of the muscles in the elbow, forearm, and hand
- Electrical stimulation, which relieves pain by stimulating different sensory receptors and blocking noxious signals sent via the nervous system
- Therapeutic ultrasound, which uses sound waves to accelerate tissue healing, increase local circulation, and reduce scar tissue formation
- Lifestyle and ergonomic modifications, to improve a person’s body mechanics and prevent repetitive tissue damage
- Splinting and bracing, to temporarily immobilize and/or support injured tendons as they heal