extensor tendonitis
July 30, 2019

Your extremities contain an important component that helps them function properly – extensor tendons. Your hands’ extensor tendons help move your wrists, thumbs and fingers. The extensor tendons in your feet, however, make it possible for you to walk. They attach to the muscles on the front of your legs and wrap over the top of your feet. Unfortunately, those vital tendons have virtually no protection from injury.

According to The United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, a rupture of the extensor tendon is the most commonly experienced injury, especially of the elbow. As a result, millions of people worldwide are diagnosed with extensor tendonitis every year. If you or someone you know has pain in or an injury to the hand, foot, or elbow, it’s important to know the warning signs of extensor tendonitis.

What Is Extensor Tendonitis?

Understanding what extensor tendonitis is will help you to not only appreciate the severity of it but also seek the correct treatments. Extensor tendonitis is defined as a non-life-threatening medical condition in which the extensor tendons become inflamed, resulting in a drastic reduction in range of motion.

The most common characteristic of extensor tendonitis is moderate to severe localized pain. For a person to be diagnosed with extensor tendonitis, both of the extensor tendons must be affected. Fortunately, there are now numerous treatment options available, some of which are designed solely to manage the symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms?

Extensor tendonitis affects each person differently. However, the most common symptoms typically include the following:

  • Bruising
  • Non-stop or radiating pain
  • Pain when you move or stretch
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Discomfort when wearing shoes, especially if they’re ill-fitting

For many, extensor tendonitis can significantly limit their quality of life. Seeking medical attention as soon as possible can prevent further damage from occurring.

How Is Extensor Tendonitis Caused?

The causes of extensor tendonitis are wide ranging and depend slightly on a person’s lifestyle and habits. For example, those who engage in extreme activities are usually far more susceptible to developing extensor tendonitis than those who lead a relatively low-key life. However, that’s not always the case.

According to recent studies, extensor tendonitis can be caused by a lot more than simply overworking the tendon. In many cases, it’s caused by consistently wearing shoes that are too tight, and for some people, simple steroid injections for pain may play a contributory role in the development of extensor tendonitis or a rupture thereof. The most common causes of extensor tendonitis include the following:

  • Overuse
  • Training or exercise changes
  • Poorly chosen footwear
  • Lacing footwear too tightly
  • Walking or running on unstable surfaces
  • Enduring long periods of standing
  • Having a high arch in your foot
  • Having flat feet
  • Tightness in the calf muscle
  • Injury or trauma to the tendon

Procedure for Diagnosis

A doctor will diagnose his or her patient with extensor tendonitis following a physical examination. The exam will likely involve a voluntary and/or assisted flexing of the tendon in an upward and downward motion. The doctor may also apply pressure to measure pain and resistance. Based on the findings of the examination, the doctor will then recommend various treatment options and lifestyle changes.

Treatment Options for Extensor Tendonitis

There are several treatment measures available to those suffering from extensor tendonitis. Each option can be tailored to the patient as well, meaning most of them are suitable for people of all ages. The most common solutions and/or management techniques for extensor tendonitis include:

  • Resting the Tendon

Avoid or limit physical activity that involves use of the extensor tendon in question.

  • Applying Ice

Put a cold compress on the affected area for approximately 10 minutes to reduce swelling.

  • Applying Heat

Put a hot compress on the affected area for about 20 minutes to reduce pain, but only after the acute period of the healing process is over.

  • Improved Footwear

Wear shoes that fit correctly and are not tied too tightly, especially when engaging in extreme activities such as sports or exercise.

  • Physical Therapy

Work with a therapist to improve your range of motion and speed up your healing time through a series of gentle stretches and strengthening workouts.

  • Anti-inflammatory Drugs

Take approved medications to reduce swelling, including ibuprofen, acetaminophen and/or naproxen.

  • Corticosteroid Injections

Get periodic, albeit limited, injections of strong pain-killing substances.

  • Orthotic Assistance

Have an orthotic specialist recommend proper footwear and/or provide necessary support for your feet to relieve pressure on the tendons.


Typically, pain from extensor tendonitis is severe and long-lasting if it’s left untreated. The severity of that pain is usually a good indicator of how difficult or lengthy recovery will be. Depending on the cause of extensor tendonitis, doctors may use several treatment options at the same time to help a patient recover faster. If you don’t have pressing matters to return to, be patient and let your body heal on its own time.