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How We Diagnose a Tendon Injury

How We Diagnose a Tendon Injury

You break a bone and a quick X-ray is usually all it takes to confirm the injury and get you pointed in the right direction for healing. Unfortunately, soft tissue damage like tendon injuries can be a bit more challenging, as they’re often progressive and the symptoms can mimic other joint issues.

This is why it’s so important to seek the help of a medical provider who specializes in musculoskeletal health, such as William Schell, MD. From shoulders to ankles, Dr. Schell has considerable experience helping patients navigate tendon injuries, which always start with the correct diagnosis.

The role your tendons play

Your body contains many different hard and soft tissues, such as bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Each performs its own function, and your tendons take on the job of connecting your muscles to your bones to facilitate movement. So, when your muscles contract, your tendons pull on the bone and you have movement.

The tendons themselves are tissues that are mostly made up of collagen fibers, and they’re incredibly tough — more so than muscles. For example, the small flexor tendons in your foot can handle more than 8 times your body weight.

The largest tendon in your body is your Achilles tendon, which connects your heel bone to your calf muscles.

Common tendon issues

In most cases of tendon issues, the problem is due to repetitive stress — over time, your tendons are damaged and weakened due to constant use.

An early stage tendon issue is tendonitis, where there’s inflammation in your tendon due to tiny tears in the tissue that develop over time. If the tendon doesn't have time to heal, tendinosis can develop, which is a breakdown in the collagen.

The other common tendon issue is tendon tears, either partial or complete. For example, two million Americans seek help for rotator cuff tears in their shoulders each year. Your rotator cuff is a strong tendon that attaches your upper arm bone to your clavicle.

While a tendon tear is usually acute — due to a direct hit — a tear can also develop if there’s already damage in the form of tendonitis or tendinosis.

Getting to the bottom of your tendon injury

If you have a joint issue, such as a sore knee, ankle, or shoulder, and there’s no obvious explanation, we urge you to come see us. Your musculoskeletal structure is highly complex and we understand how everything fits together. 

To start, we take some time to review your symptoms, which can reveal quite a bit. For example, maybe you have pain in your shoulder at night and you find it hard to reach behind your back, which usually indicates a rotator cuff issue as opposed to a dislocated shoulder.

After reviewing your symptoms, we’ll perform a physical exam and have you make certain movements to determine whether the issue is related to your tendon.

There's a good deal of information that we can gather during this examination before we turn to advanced digital imaging to confirm our suspicions. For example, an MRI is one of the best ways for us to get a detailed look at your tendons to spot any damage.

Once we get the imaging back and narrow in on the likely culprit behind your musculoskeletal problem, we will work quickly to get you back in action. From targeted exercises and activity modifications to immobilization and surgery, Dr. Schell is well-versed in the many ways we can help patients with tendon injuries. 

If you think you might be dealing with a tendon injury, we urge you to contact our New York City office, which is located on Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side.

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