Why You Need to Take Care of Your Tendons (and How)

woman stretchingWe all know about the benefits and results of the major components of physical fitness: strong muscles, strong bones, healthy body fat levels, healthy heart function, etc.

But few of us think much about the subtler elements, like range of motion, breathing, or connective tissue—specifically, let’s take a look at your tricky tendons.

The Tendon Connection

Tendons are an important fitness topic not only because they are literally part of what holds your body together, but also because when they malfunction, they tend to hurt. A lot.

Tendinitis is the result of demanding too much from our tendons. It is irritation and inflammation that tends to flare up in often-used joints, where muscles repeatedly pull on bones. That’s because of what a tendon does: it connects muscle to bone.

The Trouble with Tendons

Tendon troubles can cause significant distress in the knees, elbows, shoulders, wrists and even your heels. Perhaps you’re familiar with Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle where the calf attaches to the rear of your foot. A lot of flex and stretch of the calf muscles, as caused by landing and pushing off the foot (namely, running and jumping) can lead to Achilles tendinitis.

Tennis elbow, tender knees, and biceps tendon injury at the shoulder, are other common results of inflamed or frayed tendons. The muscles that connect to your elbows, shoulders and knees can become both very strong and very tight. Grasping rackets and balls, lifting heavy weights and pounding tennis or basketball courts, make even truly fit athletes susceptible to tendon injuries.

Beyond tendonitis, connective tissue is prone to overstretching, leading to tears or even rupture. Tendons are sort of like thick elastic bands, or the cords that are used when someone bungee jumps. They have a certain amount of give, and provide a solid attachment between juicier muscle and hard bone.

But a tendon can only stretch so far, and if you pull on it too much, you’re likely to cause enough strain to do damage. And because of their structure, tendons take a good long time to heal, too. Some tendon flare-ups, especially those caused by overuse, not only cause loss of strength, but can require stopping and/or changing activities to avoid the irritating motion, for months.

Taking Care of Your Tissues

Aside from the obvious call to avoid overuse through repetitive motions, the best way to take care of your tendons is to warm up your tissues before activities and maintain a gentle flexibility/stretching program. You’ll also be promoting positive results with all your other connective tissues, ligaments and fascia.

Proper warm-ups and gentle stretching are a must for fluid movement over the long term, and agility without pain and popping. These workout elements also offset risks of repetitive motion injuries, from carpal tunnel syndrome to runner’s knee.

Easy Tendon How-Tos

One of the most effective warm-up approaches is simply to perform a similar motion with less exertion, force, intensity and/or speed than you will be working up to.

For instance, you can lift lighter, slower, and perform more reps to warm up. You can walk before you run on an incline. You can perform big arm circles and body weight lunges before you start your tennis game or ice skating date.

And while there is still some debate over the need for stretching past the resting length of a muscle, many trainers work with more assertive flexibility training, especially to support the functional movements of athletes and to prevent injuries in active people as they age.

You might try a regular yoga or Broga program for example, perform a few static stretches selected particularly for your trouble spots after a workout, and/or explore some self-release for tight areas using a foam roller.

You never know when you’re going to need to count on a little more give from your connective tissue—it’s worth a little effort to take care of them before they give you trouble!

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