University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Dan Fick, MD
Associate Professor of Family Medicine
First Published: November 2000
Last Revised: September 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
You're rushing to finish your three-mile run just before dark, so
you hit the road without warming up. Ten minutes into your run, you
feel a hot, searing pain in the back of your leg. It gets worse with
"You're probably experiencing tendinitis, a frequent injury for
world-class athletes and weekend warriors alike," says Dr. Daniel
Fick, associate clinical professor of family practice at the
University of Iowa College of Medicine. "It's especially common among
those who participate in repetitive motion sports such as running,
swimming, and ball sports."
Tendinitis affects the tendon, the tissue that connects muscle to
bone. "The pain is caused by the very exercise people enjoy most,"
Fick notes. "Many people keep running or playing despite the
The treatment for tendinitis--rest--might dismay active people.
"If you have tendinitis, you can expect to wait three to four weeks
before resuming your normal workout schedule. The affected joint must
be pain-free to heal. That means you can't keep exercising and expect
the tendon to heal," Fick says.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxyn sodium
help reduce swelling. Ice packs can also help. Don't use heat on a
swollen tendon, he emphasizes. "Heat only fuels the fire for swelling
To prevent tendinitis, stretch every time you exercise. But
knowing when to stretch is just as important, Fick says. "A common
misconception is that you should stretch before you exercise. When
you stretch cold muscles and tendons, the body fires a reflex,
tightening the tissue even more, he explains. The appropriate way to
stretch is to first warm up by walking or jogging very slowly. Once
you've warmed up, stretch the tendon in your leg until the stretch
becomes a bit uncomfortable and then hold it for a count of 10.
Repeat that exercise three times for each leg. Stretch the tendon
that runs down the back of the leg by facing a wall, crossing one leg
behind the other and stretching the crossed leg by pushing your hands
against the wall. Repeat for the other leg.
"Your goal is to permanently lengthen the tendon. By slowly
lengthening the tendon, you'll gradually reduce your chance of
tendinitis," Fick says.
Left untreated, tendinitis can become chronic, he adds. "Scar
tissue will replace the damaged tendon tissue, making the tendon
shorter and weaker."
If you think you have tendinitis, or if you have questions, talk
with your physician.