Dealing with tendinitis and bursitis

Despite names like ‘Tennis Elbow’, ‘Swimmer’s Shoulder,’ and ‘Jumper’s Knee’, bursitis and tendinitis are conditions that strike Average Joes as well as serious athletes. According to physical therapists, they’re the most common type of repetitive motion injury, caused by an over-and-over-again movement—running, throwing a baseball, swinging a golf club—that puts strain on soft tissues and results in pain and inflammation. Repetitive motion injuries represent more than half of all the athletic-related injuries that send people to the doctor each year.

Tendinitis and bursitis are inflammatory conditions (hence the term “itis” in their names). The first affects a tendon, a type of soft tissue that primarily connects muscles to bone, or its covering (called a sheath). The second affects bursae, which are small, fluid-filled sacs that typically protect bony prominences, muscles, and tendons from friction and/or compression. 

Tendinitis and bursitis are often caused by biomechanical dysfunction in the body. For example, someone with a scapular (shoulder blade) dysfunction would be vulnerable to tendinitis of the rotator cuff or bursitis in the bursa of the shoulder joint, he explains. Runners with poor biomechanical patterns may be susceptible to tendinitis in the ankle or bursitis in the hip. Some people develop both tendinitis and bursitis at once.

Advice for treatment

The standard advice for treating tendinitis and/or bursitis is rest. You must do two things if you want to get rid of this kind of injury. One, stop performing the motion that’s causing the damage to your tissues. And two, give those tissues time to heal. But for many people—pro athletes as well as average Joes (devoted runners or gym junkies)—”rest” can be a four-letter word. 

Rest isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Someone with bursitis or tendinitis can exercise if they do so correctly. Individuals can usually work around an injury to avoid further aggravating it. A credentialed exercise professional or physical therapist can often recommend exercises that can help correct the condition. 

Tips for Staying Healthy and Avoiding Further Injury

The best exercises are those that will correct any biomechanical dysfunction without aggravating the condition. Thus, someone with shoulder tendinitis or bursitis should be able to run or bike for a cardiovascular workout but should probably avoid swimming. On the other hand, a runner with Achilles Tendinitis would benefit swimming (or biking). To help correct biomechanical problems in a shoulder, hip or other area, a physical therapist would likely recommend specific exercises to strengthen weak stabilizing muscles in the injured area and to stretch muscle groups that may be tight. 

Looking ahead, a physical therapist can offer specific advice regarding getting back to one’s regular routine-without repeating the original injury. Until an individual has eliminated his or her pain and corrected any biomechanical faults, it’s typically advised against resuming the activity that contributed to the condition in the first place. This gives the body the opportunity to heal. Additionally, a “maintenance routine” of small, single-joint exercises that target small stabilizing muscles, performed once or twice a week is generally recommended, (to be performed in conjunction with a patient’s regular workouts). By targeting these areas, a patient’s biomechanics will be improved and ensure that they’re moving correctly during other modes of exercise. 

Source: John Connelly, PT, DPT, CSCS, licensed Physical Therapist. He is board certified as an orthopedic specialist in physical therapy. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA) and a Level 1 Sports Performance Coach (USA Weightlifting).

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