Tendonitis versus Tendinosis: The Big Difference and Why it Matters

Tendonitis is a term you’re likely familiar with. You’ve probably even suffered from it at some point in your life. It’s an acute, short-term, inflammatory condition typically caused by repetitive overuse of your tendon. Tendinosis, on the other hand, is a chronic, degenerative condition of your tendon. It involves deterioration of collagen, a structural protein in your tendon.  While the two conditions sound very similar, and are often used interchangeably, they couldn’t be more different. And the treatment for each condition should be different too.

Tendons are tight but flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect your muscle to bone.

 

Without tendons, your muscles would be useless. Tendons are extremely organized, and the fibers are designed in a way to withstand and transmit high forces of tension so your muscle can function properly. 

With tendonitis, your tendon becomes inflamed and irritated, typically due to repetitive overuse.

 

Tendonitis causes pain when you try to move. The most common areas for tendonitis to occur are your elbows, rotator cuff (shoulder), patella (knee), and Achilles tendon (ankle). Tendonitis is an acute condition, and the best treatment is to rest, apply ice, and sometimes take anti-inflammatories to control pain. From there, you want to figure out what caused the tendonitis to occur in the first place and address that. Typically, it’s due to some sort of mismatch between muscle strength and the activity you need to perform, leading your body to compensate and put unwanted stress on your tendon. Once you figure out and correct this pattern, it’s very easy to get rid of your tendonitis!

When you don’t manage tendonitis properly, and it goes on longer than a few months, it can result in tendinosis.

 

Tendinosis is a very different condition where the fibers in your tendon actually start to break down. An important thing to note is that tendinosis no longer involves inflammation of your tendon. So using ice every day, resting it, and taking anti-inflammatories will not help you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to people still doing this 6-8 months after an unresolved tendonitis issue. Second, since tendinosis involves disorganization and degeneration of the fibers that make up your tendon, you have to “re-organize” those fibers in order to resolve tendinosis and get your tendon functioning properly again. 

Passive treatments like ice, rest, and medicine will not help tendinosis.

 

They might help to relieve any pain you’re having from overdoing it or undertreating it — but the tendinosis will continue to progress. Unresolved tendinosis leads to progressive weakening of your tendon over time, making it easily susceptible to full blown tears. This is how so many folks tear their Achilles tendon or rotator cuff, for example, “out of nowhere.” Once I speak with them, they often report that over the years they had recurring bouts of tendonitis in that area. In other words, their tendonitis wasn’t managed properly and it led to chronic tendinosis, making them an easy target for a torn tendon.

So how do you treat tendinosis and prevent more serious problems from happening down the line?

 

You have to re-organize those fibers so your tendon can work properly again! Sounds easy, right? Well technically it is, but the biggest problem is that this process takes time, up to 9 months in many cases. And most patients I come across simply don’t have the patience for this… or they simply aren’t told. The other issue is that if you’re expecting an insurance company to cover your treatment, they typically don’t want you in physical therapy for more than 6-12 weeks at a time. This is not long enough to properly treat tendinosis.

The only way to re-organize those tendons is to put stress on them.

 

You have to put just the right amount of stress to cause a little bit of pain, but not so much that your tendon gets inflamed again.  This is literally the one time where “no pain no gain” is actually true. A properly trained physical therapist who is well-versed in tendinosis will know how to do this. You basically have to retrain the fibers to withstand force again – and this process takes time.  The good news, however, is that if you rehab your tendinosis properly, you can get back to all the activities you love as if nothing ever happened!

If you’re confused after reading this, don’t worry – so is half the medical community. The take home points to remember are that tendonitis involves pain and inflammation, there is no damage to your tendon, and it only lasts about 4-6 weeks. Treatment for this should involve passive modalities like ice and rest, and the focus should be on what caused your tendon to get irritated in the first place. 

But if problems in your tendon have gone on longer than 3 months, you must suspect tendinosis, which no longer involves inflammation but instead, a breakdown of your tendon. Passive treatments will NOT work and could actually prolong your problem – so stop icing and resting. Getting rid of tendinosis requires carefully prescribed loading strategies (aka strengthening) that will properly re-organize your tendon so that it can be strong again! This is extremely challenging to do on your own, so it’s a good idea to talk to an expert about this. You can even schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our experts today!

 

Stretches not Working? Three Reasons Why

Do you suffer from chronic muscle tightness or back stiffness and ever wonder… why aren’t my stretches working?

Perhaps you’ve Googled and YouTubed every stretch under the sun but still – you haven’t gained an ounce of mobility.

There are a few reasons why all your stretching efforts might not be doing anything for you. It could be your technique. It could be that you’re doing the wrong stretch. Or, it could be that you just shouldn’t be stretching at all!

Let’s go over the different reasons why your stretching routine could be failing you – and most importantly – what you can do about it.

You’re doing it wrong.

Although research studies are inconclusive regarding how long you should hold a particular stretch, most people feel good when they hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds. When it comes to technique, one of the biggest problems I see is not relaxing enough. If you’re tense, or gripping your muscles at the same time you’re stretching, it won’t work very well. It’s important to breathe and move easily into any stretch you’re doing. If you try to force it or push through pain, you’ll likely tense up.

Now let’s say you’re doing everything right (not tensing or gripping) but your stretches still don’t seem to work. Some people (myself included) respond better to “moving stretches.” This is where instead of holding one static position for a prolonged period, you repeatedly move through one or several end-range stretches. Moving neck rolls are a great example of this. If you’ve been diligently stretching and not seeing the results you want, try adjusting your technique. Moving stretches might be a better strategy than static holding. I know for me it is!

You’re doing the wrong type of stretch.

This one could be a little tougher to figure out on your own. There is a difference between corrective stretching and stretching to feel good. For example, let’s say your back is tightening up because you’ve been under a lot of stress or you just did a lot of activity that stiffens up your back. Generic back stretches, such as bringing your knees to your chest or child’s pose, may be all you need to quickly get rid of the general stiffness you’re experiencing.

But let’s say you have associated back pain, or pain and numbness running down your leg. In these instances, generic back stretches won’t work or could even make you worse. You likely need corrective stretches, like what we prescribe for patients in our office. Corrective stretches are specifically prescribed to address symptoms, and are very different from the generalized stretches that are designed to feel good and relieve tension.

You shouldn’t be stretching at all.

Did you know that chronic muscle tightness can be a sign of a weakness? This is a very common problem with our clients. I’ve seen many folks over the years with chronic tightness and discomfort in their neck, backs, hips, etc. – and no matter how often they stretch or massage, it doesn’t improve.

How does this happen?

Well, groups of muscles are connected by this substance called fascia. If one group of muscles in the “fascial line” are not doing their job, a different group of muscles will have to take up the slack. When muscles are tasked with more work than they are intended for, they can become tight.

For example, if your deep core is not working properly, then the front of your neck will often kick in and try to help. If your neck is always sore or tight after a good ab workout, this is what could be happening. Stretching your neck won’t help one bit in this case – because what you need to be doing instead is strengthening your core. I see this same pattern with tight hips flexors. Once people start strengthening their core properly – the chronic tightness magically melts away.

Remember, when we are attacking the correct problem and doing the right thing – our body will respond. If you’ve been stretching and stretching and not seeing results – something is missing.

The longer your problem goes on, the more time it has to develop into a complicated fix.

If you’re suffering from any kind of pain or tightness that is keeping you from doing the things you love, our specialists are here to help!

Just CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session!

Travel Plans? Avoid Neck and Back Pain on the go

We typically see an uptick in travel plans every August. But this year we’re seeing more than ever given that travel was basically non-existent for the entirety of last year.

Traveling is so good for the mind and soul – but it’s not always fun for your neck and back.

When our clients get back from a long trip, we hear common complaints of stiff necks and backs, aggravated sciatica, and just overall achiness.

The good news is you can prevent or significantly minimize most of these symptoms with just a few easy tips. Whether you’re traveling by train, plane, or automobile – here are some of my top tips for easing neck and back pain when you travel.

1. Remember the 30 min rule

The biggest strain on your body while traveling is undoubtedly the prolonged periods of sitting – often in cramped spaces. Our bodies are made to move continuously throughout the day. On road trips, or on planes and trains, getting out of your seat is critical for keeping your neck and back healthy and mobile. Motion is lotion. And one of the best things you can do for your neck and back is to interrupt any prolonged posture – especially sitting – once every 30 minutes. If you’re unable to actually stand for a few seconds, then try arching your back or stretching your arms up over your head while sitting. Do a few neck rolls and chin tucks to stretch your spine. The more you move, the better your spine is going to feel.

2. Use a lumbar roll

Our spine is made up of distinct curves for a very good reason. They are designed to balance forces and sustain shock – and it’s best if you can maintain them. When you sit, the curve in your lower back (lumbar spine) decreases, or sometimes disappears all together. While it’s perfectly acceptable to sit like this for small increments of time (remember the 30 min rule), your spine will not like this after several hours. Plus, your neck responds by changing it’s curve as well. Typically, you’ll find your neck in what we call a “forward head” posture if your lower and mid back or curved over.

One of the best things you can do is use a cylindrical lumbar roll to help maintain the natural curve in your lumbar spine. Place it right at your lower back any time you’re sitting and you’ll find that your spine has a lot less strain.

Want to purchase a lumbar roll for yourself? We have them right here in our office. Reply back to this email if you want us to put one aside for you 🙂

3. Stay hydrated

We all know that it’s important to stay hydrated, but why is it especially critical for avoiding back and neck pain during travel? Well, water is the vehicle responsible for transporting nutrients to your cells, including the nutrients your muscle cells need to do their job. Dehydration causes muscle cramps because it deprives your body of electrolytes. Proper hydration increases strength, balance, and flexibility. Water also helps to lubricate your joints, which is a bonus for keeping your spine working smoothly and allowing it to support the movements of your entire body. So, if you’re planning to hit the road soon, make sure you bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up regularly. And the extra bathroom breaks will give you an excuse to stay moving!

4. Pack light

No matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, traveling involves packing, and packing too much stuff can be a quick recipe for back pain. Anyone who has flown knows that lugging multiple bags and/or suitcases around an airport is not only exhausting and stressful but can leave you sore and unbalanced for days. Even if you’re traveling by car, you still have to load and unload your bags, and carry them to wherever you’re staying. Your best bet is to pack light. If you’re bringing a suitcase with wheels, pack heavier items in there so that you don’t put unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders. Opt for a backpack instead of an over-the-shoulder bag to avoid uneven distribution of pressure, and stock it with your water bottle, small travel essentials, and healthy snacks.

5. Prepare your body

The best way to prevent injury or pain (in general) is to stay as mobile as you can and maintain an active lifestyle. Oftentimes when you travel, you are walking more than usual and doing more activities than you are accustomed to when you’re home. If you’ve got an active trip planned, it’s best to prepare your body beforehand. Something else to consider is your sleeping surface. Different mattresses and sleeping surfaces can really wreak havoc on your neck and back. It’s a good idea to bring your favorite pillow with you, and plan to use extra blankets or clothing items to provide extra cushioning or support where you need it. Whatever you can do to simulate what it’s like to sleep at home is going to help minimize neck and back stiffness.

I hope at least one of these tips helps you to have less back and neck pain on your next travel excursion.

Need more tips?

CLICK HERE – to talk to one of my specialists for free if you’re currently looking for help with neck and back pain right now.

Hamstrings Always Tight? This Could be Why

If you’ve ever felt tightness in your hamstrings, the typical advice you get from friends, family, and even well-meaning healthcare professionals is to stretch them.

But if even your stretches just aren’t working – what then?

You hear me say this a lot… but if you’re constantly stretching… or even foam rolling a tight or tense muscle… and nothing seems to change… then it’s time to start considering that it might be something else.

I see this scenario ALL the time in our office…

Just recently, a gentleman (we’ll call him “Steve”) came to us with what he thought was a “chronic hamstring strain…”

He had been stretching his hamstrings consistently – but they just weren’t loosening up.

He wanted to know if there were better stretches he could be doing to loosen up the tight, uncomfortable feeling he was experiencing in the back of his thigh every day.

First – it was critical to make certain that Steve’s problem was… in fact… a tight hamstring.

If the chronic tightness in the back of Steve’s thigh was due to a hamstring problem, his stretches really should’ve been having some sort of impact.

Instead, the stretches either did nothing… or made his thigh ache.

Sometimes after stretching a lot – he would “feel” his hamstring for the rest of the day – even when he was just sitting. We checked that he was using proper stretching technique – and he was – so something wasn’t right.

When you’re having a problem with your muscle – and only your muscle – you’ll experience discomfort, tightness, or pain when you’re either using that muscle or stretching that muscle.

Otherwise – you should generally feel perfectly fine.

Muscles are made up of what we call contractile tissue. When you truly strain a muscle, this contractile tissue gets disrupted. You heal it by moving and stretching it – and eventually it goes back to normal. On occasion, people don’t move enough after a muscle strain and the tissue can become chronically tight. But still, you would only experience that tightness when trying to use or stretch the muscle.

This wasn’t the case for Steve.

His pain would, on occasion, linger throughout the day when he was resting or sitting. Sometimes he’d notice hamstring discomfort at night when he was trying to sleep.

Steve was feeling symptoms in his hamstring whether he was using that muscle or not – and his stretches weren’t helping.

This immediately tells me that there was another problem causing his symptoms and it was more than just a tight hamstring. – and when hamstring or thigh tightness doesn’t respond to stretching or exercise – we must always consider the lower back.

Since Steve wasn’t feeling any pain in his lower back – he never considered this himself.

But the key was in how Steve’s pain was behaving…

Your pain behaves in different ways depending on where it’s coming from..

As I mentioned previously, when your muscle is the source, your pain behaves in a very specific and repeatable manner.

But if pain is coming from your spine, it can quite literally be all over the place.

You can feel symptoms in your back, your butt, and your limbs. You’ll have good days and bad days. You’ll feel symptoms at rest, and you can certainly feel tightness in your hamstring – just like Steve.

The other interesting thing about problems that originate from the spine is that you’ll often be able to trigger your symptoms by moving your spine.

When we investigated Steve’s spine… we found that when he moved a certain way over and over… it would produce his hamstring tightness.

Bingo!

This explains why Steve’s hamstring stretches were doing absolutely nothing… He was stretching his thigh when he really needed to stretch his back.

Does Steve’s story resonate with you?

If you’re feeling chronic tightness or pain in your hamstring that just isn’t going away – chances are good that you’re missing something.

Do yourself a favor… DON’T check YouTube or “Dr. Google” for advice…

Talk to one of our experts instead.

Best way to do that is request a FREE Discovery Session.

We’ll talk to you about the symptoms in your hamstring and let you know if stretching is enough… or if you need something more!

CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session with one of our specialists.