Tendinitis develops if a tendon which is a dense cord that connects muscle to bone becomes irritated or inflamed. Even though tendinitis can occur in any tendon in the body, it typically affects the elbow, shoulder, wrist, knee, ankle and thumb. Luckily, there are several over-the-counter treatment options such as anti-inflammatory medications, cold and heat therapy and other forms of tendon support that can help minimize the swelling and pain at the tendon site.
There are topical analgesics that can be applied on the skin as a cream, patch, gel or spray or even a rub. Several over-the-counter products that are promoted for relief from joint and muscle pain typically include camphor or menthol. These substances work by stimulating the nerves in the skin, creating a cool or warm sensation that can counteract the pain.
Salicylates are another commonly used ingredient in topical analgesics that can help reduce the perception of pain. There are also some products that contain a combination of active components such as camphor, menthol and salicylate. Even though there is lack of evidence that topical analgesics are effective in managing tendinitis, they can provide momentary relief from pain.
Heat and cold therapy
Cold therapy is considered beneficial during the initial 1-2 days after sustaining a tendon injury. The cold temperature works by reducing the pain and cause constriction of the blood vessels that surround the tendon to reduce the swelling.
Always remember that cold therapy is usually applied to the affected area for 15-20 minutes several times in a day. As for heat therapy, it is often recommended after a few days of cold therapy. The warm temperature works by increasing the flow of blood to the damaged tendon and helps relax neighboring muscles. The heat is applied to the affected area for 10-20 minutes several times in a day. Several of the over-the-counter cold and warm packs are readily available in various sizes and different types can be used for both therapies.
A short course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can provide momentary relief from pain due to tendinitis. These medications work by reducing the inflammation, but it is still uncertain whether they actually help the tendon heal. The over-the-counter options include naproxen, ibuprofen and aspirin. The doctor will recommend limiting the use of NSAIDs to 7-10 days. Always consult with a doctor first before using any over-the-counter NSAIDs to ensure that it is safe.
Supportive devices are utilized to protect and reinforce damaged tendons but evidence of their effectiveness in managing tendinitis is limited. These work by reducing the tension on the tendon during activity. Various support appliances such as heel lift and forearm straps are readily available. In addition, these support devices are used until the pain subsides but the doctor might recommend continued use during certain activities.
When to consult a doctor
In some cases of tendinitis, they do not seem to get better by getting enough rest and using over-the-counter treatment options. If the individual experiences tendon pain or swelling that persists for a few days or becomes worse, a doctor should be consulted.
It is also recommended to seek medical care if daily activities are limited despite using over-the-counter treatment options. Physical therapy or a different form of treatment might be needed. In addition, seek immediate medical care if the individual experiences severe, abrupt pain or could not use the affected area since this might indicate a serious injury such as tendon rupture.