Tendinopathy

Dr Henry Knipe et al.

Tendinopathy means a disease or disorder of a tendon and is typically used to describe any problem involving a tendon. While many use tendinopathy as an umbrella term to describe all tendon pathology, others may use it to describe a chronic tendon condition that fails to resolve. 

The prevalence of tendinopathy in the general population is 2-5%. Active and sporting individuals are at increased risk of tendinopathy although it is also commonly seen in non-active individuals. The prevalence in some populations can be high, e.g. patellar tendinopathy in up to 40% of volleyball players, however, sites and prevalence will depend on the sport and level played 2.

Tendinopathy is a clinical syndrome consisting of pain, tendon swelling and impaired function 3.

The pathophysiology of tendinopathy is yet to full elucidated but one popular theory is the continuum model with inflammation rather than degeneration implicated 2,3:

  • reactive tendinopathy
  • tendon dysrepair (also known as "failed healing")
  • degenerative tendinopathy

Risk factors can be intrinsic or extrinsic 2:

  • intrinsic
    • genetic
    • sex: increased in female
    • age: increases with age
    • medications, e.g. fluoroquinolones, local and systemic glucocorticoids
    • metabolic, e.g. obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, hypercholesterolemia
    • poor muscle strength
  • extrinsic
    • excessive tendon beyond tendon capacity, in particular, activities with a high-energy storage component (e.g. jumping in basketball, kicking sports)
    • amount of loading (e.g. increased training time)
    • change in loading
    • "abusive loading" (i.e. unaccustomed activity) in non-active individuals

Ultrasound is the mainstay of imaging tendinopathy, with MRI as the second-line investigation. Plain radiograph and CT have a limited role, sometimes used to assess for calcification or associated avulsion injuries

Plain radiographs have a low sensitivity for tendinopathy but localized soft tissue swelling and calcifications may be seen. Calcified insertional tendinopathy is usually well seen and is a common incidental finding. 

Specific features will depend on the site of tendinopathy but general features include 4:

  • early changes: tendon thickening, contour change, echotexture change
  • progressive changes: further tendon thickening, loss of normal fibrillary pattern with hypoechogenicity
  • may be focal or diffuse
  • color Doppler may demonstrate neovascularity

The above changes can be seen in asymptomatic individuals but prominent, tendon thickening, loss of fibrillary pattern and neovascularity are more commonly seen in symptomatic patients 4.

There is overlap in the imaging features on ultrasound with tendon thickening and contour change present 5.

  • T1: hyperintense
  • T2: hyperintense
  • GRE: hyperintense (often before T1 spin-echo hyperintensity) ​5
  • T1C+: enhancement 5

Unfortunately, these features are indistinguishable from myxoid degeneration.

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Article information

rID: 65577
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Tendinopathy (overview)

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1: iliopsoas tendinopathy
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  • Case 2: triceps tendinopathy
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  • Case 3: popliteus tendinopathy
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  • Case 4: common extensor tendinopathy
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  • Case 5: semimembranosus tendinopathy
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