Tendinitis vs. Tendinosis: Why The Difference is Important
We’ve all woken up to find that an ankle, elbow, or knee is sore. Maybe you worked out extra hard, helped a friend move, or tried a new sport the day before, and now you’re looking for an ice pack. The inflammation and soreness that we feel in our tendons after an activity, especially one that we often do, may be related to a condition called tendinitis, which is a different issue that is often confused with tendinosis.
Let’s explore the differences between tendinitis vs. tendinosis, why it’s essential to seek medical attention, and how to differentiate one from the other.
Differences Between Tendinitis vs. Tendinosis
Both tendinitis and tendinosis are conditions that affect your tendons, which are structures made of strong collagen-based tissue that connect your muscles to your bones. In essence, the significant differences between tendinitis and tendinosis include duration, severity, and cause of the condition. Let’s explore the most notable differences between these conditions:
In essence, tendinitis is inflammation of tendon tissue. The cause of tendinitis is usually from a repetitive movement(s) that causes inflammation of the tendon. Tendinitis is typically an acute condition that is short in duration. In fact, tendinitis is not uncommonly a self-limiting condition, as cases often improve within a few weeks. Prescription medication is usually not necessary as symptoms may alleviate or decrease after using ice and anti-inflammatories along with rest. However, to prevent prolonged symptoms and reduce the chances of reoccurrence, it is best to be proactive in the management of this condition, thereby limiting the development of chronicity.
Tendinosis is characterized by disorganized tissue formation as the body attempts to repair a tendon that has experienced a long term inflammatory response. During this self-repairing process, our bodies recruit the creation of newer blood vessels to the area of tendinosis to ensure that enough oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to the site of injury. This is a chronic condition that is long-term and often recurring. Tendinosis may take months to decrease in severity and/or resolve. Most experts agree that six to nine months is an average length of time for a full recovery. The cause of tendinosis is usually due to an injury that hasn’t healed properly or repetitive trauma to a specific part of the body.
Bridging the Gap
The critical difference between tendinitis and tendinosis is that a local inflammatory response primarily characterizes tendinitis. In contrast, tendinosis type conditions see with it the breakdown or degeneration of the tendon tissue, in addition to inflammation of the area.
In the realm of medical diagnoses, it is becoming more common to refer to a tendon injury under the general term of “tendinopathy.” This is because the transition from an acute type of tendinitis to chronic tendinosis is a grey area that is highly variable based upon each person.
With this is mind, it is essential to be mindful of the difference between general soreness and localized pain in regions of our bodies where tendons lie.
Common Types of Tendinosis
While tendinopathy is a general condition, there are a few types of tendon injuries that are more common and may require immediate attention.
Achilles Tendinosis: When the tendon that bridges your calf muscle to your heel bone develops microtears through consistent overuse, this is what is known as Achilles tendinosis. Other factors that contribute to Achilles tendinosis include calf and hamstring tightness, overuse in walking, climbing, or sports, and bone spurs rubbing against the tendon.
Tennis Elbow: Caused by overuse, tennis elbow takes place in the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to your elbow. While named for the sport of tennis, this condition can be caused by any repetitive motion that involves weight or an impact such as weight lifting or construction work.
Jumper’s Knee: If you trace your finger along your knee to the front of the shin, this is where you’ll find a tendon that contributes to a condition called jumper’s knee. As you’d imagine, jumper’s knee is most familiar with athletes who engage in jumping activities such as basketball.
Is it Tendinitis or Tendinosis?
With symptoms that overlap, it can be tough to differentiate between tendonitis and tendinosis. The best way to know is to visit your doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist.
To better assess between the two conditions, a healthcare professional will review a standard questionnaire with you, including some questions regarding recent activities and lifestyle choices. Then, following a physical examination, if your healthcare provider is concerned regarding the degree of tissue involvement or integrity, medically imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or diagnostic ultrasound, may be indicated for further evaluation of the painful area.
Treatment for Tendonitis and Tendinosis
Below is a list of common treatment options for tendinopathies:
- Discontinuing the activity that caused the condition
- Anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., NSAIDs) or supplements
- Supplementation with collagen products
- Physical therapy
- Massage and/or myofascial therapy
With understanding musculoskeletal conditions, it is important to be mindful of the difference between general soreness and localized pain. Localized pain that progressively worsens or does not resolve on its own (typically within a week) should warrant a proper examination by a licensed healthcare provider.
Generally speaking, heat and gentle range of motion exercises and stretches are appropriate for decreasing muscle tightness, while ice is better for pain control. Nevertheless, to best understand what the homecare method is best for you, an evaluation by a practitioner may be indicated.
Not Sure if You Have Tendinitis vs. Tendinosis?
If you’re experiencing pain in one of your joints and you suspect it could be tendinosis, let us help you. Our staff can provide you with a clear-cut diagnosis followed by a treatment plan to alleviate symptoms and help you get back to doing what you love.