Our bodies are incredibly resilient, able to take a lot of bumps and bruises throughout our lives. Not all injuries are created equal, however, and it is important to know about your injury in order to best help your body through the recovery process. In this post, we will talk about one of the most common injuries for the body, a tendon injury.
What is a tendon?
A tendon is a type of connective tissue in the body. These tissues connect muscle to bone, which allows us to use these muscles to pull and move our joints around, and by extension allow us to move in space. Tendons are made mostly of collagen, which provide these seemingly thin tissues with incredible strength. Like how muscles grow with training, tendons become stronger when they are put under repeated strains.
What is a tendon injury?
A tendon injury, also called a tendinopathy, is when the tendon is overloaded to the point where its structure fails. Depending on the intensity of the overload, this results in a partial or full tear of the tendon. Tendons tend to be injured at the area that they are weakest, which is the junction between the muscle and the tendon. Depending on the level of injury, the symptoms can range from pain when using the affected muscle and tendon, to constant pain and even weakness of the affected tissues.
Tendons can become injured in a few different ways. First, they can be strained or torn when they are overloaded with strain, like when lifting a much heavier load or throwing a ball much faster than you are used to. They can also become injured by being strained in a way they are not built to withstand. For example, twisting a joint like the knee or ankle can pull on the tendons in the area in a direction in which they are not strong. Finally, they can be injured slowly over time through repetitive strains.
What are common tendon injuries?
Some tendons in the body are more prone to injury than others. Here are some examples of very common sites of tendon injuries.
Rotator cuff: The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that surround and stabilize the shoulder joint. Because the shoulder is so mobile, these tendons can be strained when they are stretched in bad shoulder positions (see our article about rotator cuff injury here).
Tennis elbow: The muscles on the back of your forearm, responsible for wrist and finger movements, all converge onto a single point at the elbow. Chronic overuse of these muscles, as in sports like tennis or computer work, can cause repetitive strain at the tendon insertion (see our article about tennis elbow here).
Gluteal tendinopathy: This tendon injury occurs at the side of your hip and is caused by friction between your IT band and the bony area on the side of the femur.
Patellar tendinopathy: The patellar tendon, which is the tendon that connects your patella (kneecap) to your lower leg, can become strained with repetitive stress from running or other sports, especially if the patella is not tracking properly on the knee (see our article about PFPS here)
Achilles tendinopathy: The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, and can be strained from very large forces or weights on the ankle, especially if there is any twisting of the ankle at the same time (see our article about Achilles tendinitis here).
Tips to avoid tendon injury
Tendon injuries are common, but many are avoidable with the right technique or behaviour! Here are some tips on how to avoid or minimize tendon injury:
- Warm up: Overloading a cold muscle or tendon will injure it much faster than one that has warmed up. Before heavy or intense activities, perform a lighter version of the activity first.
- Lighten the load: If you are doing a heavy activity like shoveling or lifting, consider doing it to a lesser intensity – take less show each load, or lift fewer boxes at once. Don’t forget to take breaks if you feel fatigued!
- Gradual loading: Tendon injuries occur way more often if a heavy load is applied quickly to the tendon as opposed to slowly and gradually. Take your time with heavy activities, don’t rush!
- Age plays a role: As much as we hate to admit it, as we get older our tissues don’t handle stresses as well. That heavy activity you could do easily when you were younger might be more dangerous for you now, so take more care as you age!
Treatment for tendon injuries
For tendon injuries, we would employ a mix of exercise-based therapy with hands-on therapy like myofascial release or dry needling. If you do get an injury and want to know more about how to best take care of it, book a session with us at PhysioVive in Barrhaven and we can help guide you with treatment!
About The Author
Jonathan Rankin obtained his MSc in Physiotherapy at McMaster University, and also completed both a BSc and an MSc in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. He has a strong background in exercise, from working as a personal trainer at the University of Ottawa to conducting research on exercise during pregnancy in his master’s degree.