Tendonitis vs Tendinopathy — Breaking Down the Differences

Do you suffer from stiffness, swelling, or sudden sharp pains that seem to bully your knees, shoulders, or hips, for example? And do you ever wonder if those are symptoms of tendonitis? Well, it very well could be, but, it could also be tendinopathy. Tendinopathy? Isn’t that just another medical term for tendonitis? Nope, not at all. Since the two do share similar symptoms, many people tend to use them interchangeably, however, they are two separate conditions.

Although most people may be familiar with the term tendonitis, many experts agree that tendinopathy is, in reality, more frequently the culprit. Because tendinopathy and tendonitis are different. Knowing what the differences are will assist in determining your treatment.

What Exactly is Tendonitis?

When your tendons become inflamed and irritated, it is referred to as tendonitis. The suffix “itis” refers to inflammation, hence, tendonitis. Tendonitis can trigger deep, annoying aches that can restrict your movements.

Tendons are thick, flexible cords of fibrous tissue that attach muscles to bones within your body.

What About Tendinopathy?

Unlike tendonitis, which is the inflammation of a tendon, tendinopathy is when the collagen protein that forms the tendon degenerates. See the difference? One is inflammation, whereas the other is degeneration. Doctors describe most tendon injuries as tendinopathy, which includes:

Experts have now started to acknowledge that tendon injuries are likely caused by long-term overuse that results in deterioration of your tendon, minus any associated inflammation.

Tendinopathy, also known as tendinosis, denotes collagen breakdown in your tendon which induces burning pain along with a reduction in movement, range of motion, as well as flexibility.

Tendinopathy mainly affects your:

About The Differences Between the Two

It’s important to distinguish the difference between tendonitis and tendinopathy because one causes inflammation, while the other causes degeneration (of the tendons), which requires different forms of treatment.

Anti-inflammatory medications and treatments normally work fairly quickly for inflammation. But, if your injury is caused by degeneration of tendon tissue, the treatment will require time as it will involve strengthening the tendon and restoring tissues.

Some Shared Triggers

Oftentimes, tendinopathy and tendonitis develop because of incorrect sports techniques, poor posture, or age. Whereas, it would be recommended to work with a trainer or coach. Always make sure to complete an appropriate warm-up and remember to add cross-training as it is also helpful in preventing injuries due to overuse.

True to its name, overuse injuries result from stress, repetitive use, as well as soft tissue trauma, which includes your:

  • Joints
  • Bones
  • Muscles
  • Tendons

This is also called:

  • Cumulative Trauma
  • Repetitive Stress Injuries

What are the Treatment Options?

1. The R.I.C.E. Method

When tendonitis is suspected, the first thing you need to do is to quit the activity you’re doing and rest. Tendonitis is proven to respond well to the R.I.C.E. method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).

  • Rest — Rest the afflicted body part as often as possible.
  • Ice — Apply ice to the area up to eight times a day for 20 minutes.
  • Compress — Use an elastic bandage to wrap the affected area, not too tight, though.
  • Elevate — Prop the affected area on a pillow or other contraption to help reduce swelling.

The R.I.C.E. method works to decrease swelling and inflammation, which allows for some temporary relief. This is the typical treatment necessary to heal from tendonitis, which can likely take a few weeks.

Unfortunately, if you’re dealing with tendinopathy, it can take two to six months for you to recover. Continuing the actions that caused the injury, regardless of the discomfort, may eventually result in a long-term chronic issue.

2. Physical Therapy 

Your physical therapist will assist in deciding the path of your rehab, which could include the use of splints or braces to relieve the pressure from your tendon while it heals. Some common rehabilitation techniques include:

  • Bracing
  • Splinting
  • Massage
  • Ultrasound
  • Medications

Rehab for tendinopathy concludes with flexibility and strengthening exercises under the supervision of your physician or physical therapist.

3. What About Surgery?

If your tendinopathy is severe and doesn’t respond to other treatment methods, surgery may also be recommended to repair the tendon. Recovery may take up to 12 weeks and will include physical therapy.


If you know the cause of your tendon injury, you can likely prevent long-term issues by switching repetitive activities and overuse to less strenuous activity. To prevent tendon overuse injuries from recurring, keep a training schedule and include a variety of duration, intensity, as well as specific activity types.

What are the Specific Types?

Some areas of the body that commonly develop tendon injuries include:


If you notice that your tendon pain is lasting longer than a few days, despite rest and elevation, and you’re in the NEPA area, Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab can help.

If you’re ready to put an end to tendon pain, contact us today to schedule an evaluation. We look forward to helping you live with less pain while working on rehabbing your injured tendon. In the meantime, find more helpful articles here.