Spinal Tendonitis

The tough, fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones are known as tendons. Made mostly of collagen, tendons in the spine support body weight as well as assist in movements such as extending, flexing, and stretching. Sometimes these tendons can become injured resulting in inflammation and pain, which is then referred to as spinal tendonitis. 

What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Tendonitis?

Because tendons of the spine are in close proximity to spinal nerves, sometimes the inflamed tendon can compress a nearby nerve. If this happens the following symptoms may be present:

  • Pain, numbness or tingling that may be felt in the arms or legs
  • Pain around the spine at the site of the tendon
  • Decreased spinal mobility
  • Weakened back muscles 
  • Tenderness in affected area
  • Foraminal stenosis (narrowing of the space which holds the spinal nerves)

What Causes Spinal Tendonitis?

Spinal tendonitis can occur due to a variety of reasons, however, it most commonly occurs due to overuse of the tendons over time. Age also plays a role in the development of spinal tendonitis, as tendons become less flexible with aging. The condition may also occur as a result of:

  • Sudden injury
  • Occupation: Jobs involving frequent reaching, repetitive movements, awkward positions or vibrations 
  • Intense physical activity
  • Use of antibiotics such as Cipro and Levaquin can pose a risk of tendon injury 

How Is Spinal Tendonitis Diagnosed?

After reviewing your medical history and discussing your daily activity, your doctor will perform a physical exam which will include some movement tests to determine which motions are causing symptoms. Your doctor may then order some x-rays to see if any of the surrounding vertebrae (the small bones that make up the spine) are affected. Finally, since tendons are soft tissues in order to make a proper diagnosis, you will have to undergo an additional imaging test such as a CT (computerized tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). 

What Are the Treatments for Spinal Tendonitis?

Typically, spinal tendonitis can be treated with conservative measures. The objective is to decrease inflammation and allow the tendons to heal. In order to do this, standard treatments include: 

  • Rest
  • Anti-inflammatory medications or corticosteroid injections
  • Physical therapy: focused on exercises that strengthen tendons and the surrounding muscles, as well as stretching to increase flexibility 
  • Hot and cold therapy
  • Massage therapy 

Usually, surgery is not required unless conservative treatments fail, and symptoms are severe (as in the case of nerve compression).  If this is the case, different surgery options are available and the best one will be determined in accordance with your specific symptoms. 

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