Signs and Symptoms of Tendonitis

Symptoms of tendonitis can appear suddenly or can develop slowly over time. The most common symptom is pain. Pain can be dull and aching, sharp and burning, or radiating. In some cases, a bump forms, and the affected area makes noises, such as squeaking and popping. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Weakness

Signs of tendonitis may be specific to the certain type. For example, a patient with patellar tendonitis may have trouble going up and down stairs. Patients with tennis elbow or golfer's elbow may find it difficult to grip a doorknob or shake hands with a new acquaintance. Dressing can be painful for a patient with rotator cuff tendonitis.

Tendonitis Complications

Patients should seek medical care immediately if signs of infection (e.g., fever, redness, warmth, swelling) develop or if the area cannot be moved, appears deformed, or could be broken.

If left untreated, tendonitis may become chronic. Chronic tendonitis causes constant pain that may interfere with daily activities and result in difficulty sleeping. In some cases, pain can spread out from the affected area as well. Untreated tendonitis can also lead to weakening of the tendon (tendonosis or tendinopathy), rupture of the tendon, and permanent damage to the affected tissues.

Diagnosis of Tendonitis

To diagnose tendonitis, the health care provider takes a medical history, asks questions about work and recreational activities that might be contributing factors, and performs a physical examination, evaluating the range of motion and tenderness of the affected area.

X-rays may be taken to determine if another condition, such as arthritis or a fracture may be causing the pain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) usually is not necessary, but this test can show changes in tissue surrounding the tendon. Blood tests may be performed to check for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

If wrist tendonitis is suspected, other tests (e.g., Finkelstein test) are performed. The Finkelstein test involves bending the thumb, fingers, and wrist in such a way that if pain results, the test is positive. This test helps the physician determine whether the pain is from wrist tendonitis or from another type of wrist problem.

Publication Review By: Amy Stein Wood, MPT , Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 May 2007

Last Modified: 25 May 2011