If you are a competitive athlete, chances are you have experienced a constant burning pain close to one of your knee or elbow joints. Initially it may have seemed like a minor inconvenience, but it stuck around, slowly turning up the burning heat until you were unable to perform routine activities. You may have had tendonitis, and the need to initiate treatment to alleviate this painful sensation.
Tendonitis is an inflammation of the muscle tendons that brings a light, burning pain. Two of the most common sites are the inside or outside of the elbow joint, commonly referred to as golfer’s (inside) or tennis (outside) elbow; and around the knee where the kneecap sits, known as patellar tendonitis.
Tendonitis has a variety of causes, but it usually manifests itself slowly through a repeated activity. Running 30 miles a week, hitting hundreds of golf balls, or even sitting at your laptop clicking the mouse over and over can produce tendonitis. If you go to a doctor, I would be willing to bet a week’s worth of lunch money that the doctor’s default protocol for treating tendonitis will be stop doing the activity and rest for [fill in a number] weeks.
Save yourself the visit and the $50 co-pay with the following five strategies to identify and start your knee or elbow tendonitis treatment so you can get you back to playing the sport you love.
Identify the Potential Cause
First things first. You have to know where the pain came from before you get on the road to recovery. If you do not know the likely cause, you are doomed to repeat it again or even live with chronic tendonitis. Examine your sports participation, practice drills, training volume, new techniques or equipment you use. Consider your lifestyle beyond sports. Is your computer work station set up optimally? Is your car seat too close to the steering wheel, jamming your leg when you engage the clutch?
When you have narrowed down the possible sources of the pain, your fix could be as simple as temporarily limiting the activity that caused the inflammation and adding restorative measures like icing area and rest. If the pain does not subside within 1 to 2 weeks, something else might be going on, requiring a more sophisticated rehabilitative protocol.
Get your Technique in Check
No matter how good you are at your craft, having a coach correct inefficient or technically poor movement patterns is a must. All the best athletes have coaches, and although you might not have the income of a high-level athlete, it’s worth it to spend a session or two with a coach who can correct your technique to help prevent and treat tendonitis. Maybe your throwing mechanics are incorrect in certain positions. Maybe you lack flexibility, stability or strength in the affected joint. A good coach can detect such issues and put you on the right path. Your health and well being are priceless. Care for it by spending what you need to maintain and get the best out of yourself.
Add Some Soft Tissue Work
Soft tissue work is a great way to break up adhesions in the muscles, increase blood flow and hydrate the muscles. Work on the muscles above and below the affected joint. For knee tendonitis, it may be intuitive to foam roll the quadriceps, but you should also roll the muscles on the outside of the front of the shin (tibialis anterior), because the more they are used to support the upper leg, the tighter they can become.
Stretch It Out
Doctors and physical therapists usually recommend a restorative protocol that includes rest, icing and stretching. But not all types of stretching are created equal. In an attempt to alleviate tennis elbow, you can statically stretch your forearm flexors and extensors all day long, but the relief might be temporary at best. Like soft tissue work, it’s important to stretch the muscles above and below the inflamed area. To do this, use your thumb or forefinger to find tight spots around the inflamed area, press into and hold that area lightly, then stretch it through a range of motion. By targeting the tight areas directly, you are more likely to get the muscles to release and alleviate pain in the joint than you would be by simply doing a global stretch of the area.
Strengthen All Around the Area
As a strength coach, I recommend strength training even for an inflamed joint. If you suffer from patellar tendonitis, performing your normal Squat and Lunge routine might be out of the question. However, band work, like Terminal Knee Extensions, can help your condition. Combining restorative strength work with your normal strength training movements will keep you on track and make your whole body stronger.
I hope this protocol helps you prevent and treat tendonitis. Check out this video for more details.