Tenosynovitis is the inflammation of the sheath that surrounds a tendon, the thick cord that connects muscle to bone. The sheath protects the tendon, allowing it to stretch and preventing it from rubbing against the surrounding tissue. When the tendon sheath is inflamed, it causes joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Tenosynovitis appears in two forms: infectious and noninfectious. The condition is also referred to as tendon sheath inflammation and is typically the result of injury or overstraining the tendon. An inflammatory joint disorder is another cause of tenosynovitis.
The most common cause of tenosynovitis is an injury to the tendon or the surrounding muscle or bone. Any repetitive activity may contribute to such injuries, like weight lifting, jogging, typing, knitting, carpentry, gardening, or assembly line work. Tenosynovitis occurs most frequently in the hands, wrists, and feet. Medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and diabetes may also contribute to tendon sheath inflammation.
The most common sign of tendon sheath inflammation is recurring flashes of pain in the affected area. Initially, you may only feel pain is when there is pressure on the tendon. As tenosynovitis advances, however, the area may begin to hurt when at rest, as well. Other symptoms include joint stiffness, swelling, pain, tenderness, and redness of the skin.
Tendon sheaths are fluid-filled tubes that protect the tendon from being worn down by repetitive use. The fluid in the sheath allows the tendon to glide smoothly without harmful friction. However, if there is too much strain on the tendon sheath, it may become inflamed over time. The repetitive nature of a routine action, such as playing the piano over long periods of time, is often what causes this result.
Tendinitis and tenosynovitis are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Tendinitis refers to the inflammation of the tendon itself. Tenosynovitis refers specifically to inflammation of the protective tendon sheath. Additionally, tendinosis is the chronic degeneration of a tendon absent any inflammation.
Trigger finger describes an ailment where the finger gets locked in a bent position. The medical name for trigger finger is stenosing tenosynovitis -- the condition is a type of tendon sheath inflammation. Trigger finger most commonly affects people with diabetes and occurs at a higher rate in women than men. People whose jobs require them to utilize their hands in small, repetitive motions are also at a higher risk. Doctors may treat trigger finger with medication, therapy, surgery, or a combination of all three.
If you are experiencing redness, swelling, or pain, and believe it could be due to tenosynovitis, schedule an appointment with your doctor. The doctor will examine the region and may manipulate the area of the problematic tendon to identify any increase or decrease in pain. He or she may then recommend an MRI or ultrasound to rule out other causes of pain, redness, or swelling.
Individuals can prevent tendon sheath inflammation by decreasing repetitive, forceful, or excessive movements. If you work in an office environment, setting up an ergonomic workstation, including padded mouse and keyboard wrist-rests, may help ease the strain of typing and other tasks. Taking breaks will also help. Muscle strengthening can aid in avoiding tenosynovitis. Another factor that may be overlooked: bacteria can lead to inflammation of the tendon sheath, so be sure to properly clean any cuts or scrapes.
The best response to tenosynovitis is to keep the affected area as still as possible. Refrain from doing the activity that likely contributed to the inflammation in the first place. Apply a cool compress to the area to reduce swelling, redness, and pain. Massage and stretching may also reduce symptoms. Depending on the cause and severity of the tenosynovitis, your doctor may recommend additional treatments such as steroid shots.
Once the tendon sheath heals, a doctor may recommend exercise or physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscle. Such activity could prevent future inflammation. If tendon sheath inflammation does become a regular problem, consult your doctor to determine if surgery or additional treatment is necessary.
Tendon sheath inflammation typically only lasts for a few days. Some people may experience chronic tenosynovitis lasting weeks or months. However, those who develop tenosynovitis due to a particular activity are susceptible to additional or even permanent damage if they do not stop or significantly reduce the activity.
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