Made of collagen, tendons are durable connective tissues that play a role in keeping bones and muscles together. In the spine, these strong, fibrous tissues are similar to springs in mattresses because they support weight. They also facilitate movements involving flexing, extending, and stretching. If these fibrous, flexible tissues become inflamed due to injury, overuse, or overextension, it’s known as spinal tendonitis (tendinopathy). The trusted Beverly Hills spine surgeons at The Spine Institute offer a closer look at this condition and how it can be treated.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Tendonitis?
Tendons attached to the spinal column that become irritated or inflamed sometimes compress nearby nerve roots. In some situations, an inflamed tendon causes a passageway on the sides of vertebrae (foramina) to narrow, further placing pressure on nerves. As a result, patients may experience:
- Local irritation in the affected area of the spine
- Radiating numbness and tingling sensations that extend to shoulders, arms, thighs, or legs (depending on which tendons and nerves are affected)
- General muscle weakness
- Pain associated with movements of the spine
How Is Tendinopathy of the Spine Diagnosed?
During a physical exam, movement tests may be done to determine which specific motions tend to trigger symptoms. X-rays may be ordered so bones and joints of the spine can be checked for fractures and other types of damage, but MRI and CT scans specifically confirm soft tissue damage.
How Might It Be Treated without Surgery?
Many cases of spinal tendonitis respond well to non-surgical treatments. If spinal tendonitis is mild, resting for a few days or modifying activities to keep stress off of soft tissues may allow spinal tendons to heal. The goal of any treatment beyond rest is to reduce the inflammation that contributes to nerve compression. If a few days of rest isn’t effective, patients often benefit from a combination the following conservative treatments:
- Alternating hot and cold applications to increase circulation and reduce inflammation
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Corticosteroid injections directly into the affected tissues to stop the production of inflammation-causing chemicals
- Platelet-rich plasma injections to promote faster healing
- Physical therapy exercises to strengthen tendons and supporting muscles
- Massage therapy and other therapeutic forms of physical therapy
- Eccentric strengthening to increase muscle contraction in the muscle-tendon unit
- Isometric and lumbar stability exercises
When Is Surgery Recommended?
Most of the time, conservative treatments for spinal tendonitis effectively manage symptoms. When the resulting inflammation continues to place pressure on nerves, surgery becomes a consideration, especially if recurring symptoms are affecting quality of life. When surgery is necessary, it’s usually minimally invasive decompression procedures.
The specific type of decompression surgery performed will depend on how nerves are being irritated. For instance, a foraminotomy may be done to relieve pressure on nerves exiting from the spinal cord. Another option is facet thermal ablation, a procedure that deadens painful nerves.
Tendons are mainly made up of various proteins. For this reason, a diet that includes protein-rich foods can boost the production of the collagen that keeps tendons healthy and minimizes the risk of developing conditions like spinal tendonitis. Reliable sources of protein from diet include fish, poultry, beans, lentils, and eggs. Foods with significant amounts of vitamins A, C, and E can also reduce tendon inflammation and repair tissues.
In some cases, a chronic spinal condition may require a spinal fusion alternative. Beverly Hills patients who are seeking relief for spine-related pain should schedule an in-person evaluation at The Spine Institute right away. Call our office at 310-828-7757.