What does tendon inflammation really look like?

I make a point of distinguishing between tendonitis (which is inflammation) and tendonosis (which is an actual degeneration of the tendon itself).  If you’ve taken the Tendon Test, you can find out very quickly which one you have.

But I do get questions from people who think that they might have some inflammation and want to know how to tell for sure.  Inflammation has four classic markers: pain, swelling, redness and heat.  Pain and heat aren’t things that I can advise you about via a blog, and most everyone knows what the color red looks like.  But swelling is another matter.  Lots of people with tendon pain feel around the area where they have pain and think that they might also have swelling…but they’re not really sure.

I recently received a picture from a client who definitely had swelling.  Here it is:

Swollen tendon
Swollen tendon

As you can see, the tendon leading into the base of the thumb is much larger than it should normally be.  (Go ahead and cock your wrist back so that it’s in the same position as the hand in the picture.  Does your thumb tendon look anything like that?  I hope not.)  Admittedly, this is a particularly bad case, but it just goes to show what a really swollen tendon looks like.

Here’s another example, this time from the lower body:

Inflamed achilles tendon
Inflamed achilles tendon

This one isn’t nearly as severe as the first picture, but the swelling is still bad enough that you can visually detect the size difference between the right and left achilles tendons. In cases like these, there’s no room for doubt.

So if your tendon looks something like the first or second picture, then yes, you definitely have swelling.  If it looks normal but feels a little larger than normal (especially compared to the same tendon on the other side of your body), then you might have a little swelling.  Just make sure to be honest with yourself, and don’t fall prey to thinking that you have a swollen tendon when you don’t.  (Sort of a reverse placebo-effect.)  Finally, if you don’t have any discernible swelling, it’s a pretty good bet that you don’t have tendonitis…although tendonosis is still very much a possibility.  Again, the best and easiest way to tell is simply to take the tendon test.  It’s completely free and will only take a minute (literally!) of your time.

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