Ignore Tendon Pain at Your Peril
Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista goes to bat for giving tendons the attention they deserve.
He was in the middle of one of the most impressive power-hitting streaks in recent baseball history, until an aggressive swing resulted in a season-ending surgery. As Jose Bautista watched the ball fly away from him, he could tell that something was up with his left wrist. “I heard a pop, but there wasn’t immediate pain,” he says, describing the moment last year when—unbeknownst to him at the time—he tore his extensor carpiulnaris (ECU) tendon sheath. “It felt like something had displaced or moved into a spot where it’s not supposed to be.”
Bautista, an MuscleTech athlete, underwent surgery shortly after and then went through the months-long rehab process that followed, ultimately making his way back to the baseball diamond. But his wrist hasn’t felt the same ever since. “It might not seem like a big deal,” Bautista cautions, but a tendon injury can change everything, and ignoring it can ruin your body. While injuries can be reversed to a degree, prevention will always be the smart decision.
There are two main kinds of tendon injuries—a sudden trauma as the result of a rapid movement like a jump or a hard landing playing sports, or simple overuse. An injury that results in small tears in the tendon that then degenerate over Time can ultimately lead to the condition known as tendinitis. Tendinitis, on the other hand, results from overuse of the tendon through repetitive motions such as running or lifting weights. Either way, look out for warning signs like pain, stiffness, or swelling. If you observe any of these, you can narrow the diagnosis: tendinosis is often characterized by discomfort that comes and goes in approximately two-week intervals or feels increasingly worse over time. If the affected area is noticeably red or warmer than the area surrounding it, it might be tendinitis.
If you suspect a tendon injury, rest the area, ice it on and off, and take over-the- counter anti-inflammatory medications. Do not tough it out and skip the meds— they’re not just for reducing pain, they play a critical role in relieving inflammation, which limits damage to the ten- don. If the problem persists, see a doctor, who may then refer you to a physical therapist who will be able to determine if the injury is tendinosis or tendinitis. Tendinosis may require physical therapy or even surgery to correct, whereas bouncing back from tendinitis can be as simple as a cortisone shot.
Strengthening your tendons can significantly reduce your chance of injury. (See “super glue” on page 36 for a tendon- targeting workout.) An effective way to avoid tendon troubles from weight training is to introduce a “deload” phase into your workout once every four to six weeks. Deloading — otherwise known by the technical term “taking it easy”—is a critical part of any weight-training plan. It usually lasts one to two weeks and involves reducing the weight you’re using by 40–50 percent and per- forming fewer sets. A deload phase gives your muscles, joints, and connective tissue a much-needed break while allowing you to keep training.