What are the Symptoms of a Torn Tendon?

Sarah Sullins

Symptoms of a torn tendon include pain, swelling, joint restriction, popping and knot formation. The symptoms differ from person to person and with the severity of the tear. A torn tendon may cause a person to become permanently disabled if it is not treated by a doctor.

People who have a torn rotator cuff may not be able to move their arm back and forth or bring it above their head.
People who have a torn rotator cuff may not be able to move their arm back and forth or bring it above their head.

Indications that a person has a torn tendon will be localized, meaning symptoms of the tear will appear where the tear is on the body or very near it. Pain is usually the most dramatic symptom that is noticed. Severe pain can occur if the tear is particularly bad. Pain with movement of the affected area may also be noticed.

An ice pack might help with the swelling caused by a torn tendon.
An ice pack might help with the swelling caused by a torn tendon.

The second symptom, swelling, will generally appear around the area. A person might also experience joint restriction. This means the person will be unable to move or find it hard to move or use the affected part of the body. People who have a torn rotator cuff, for instance, may not be able to move their arm back and forth or bring it above their head.

Physical therapy may help those recovering from a torn tendon rebuild strength and return to a normal range of motion.
Physical therapy may help those recovering from a torn tendon rebuild strength and return to a normal range of motion.

Sometimes a loud popping can be heard when a tear first appears. It is even more likely for this popping to be heard if the tendon completely snaps. The pain that follows this popping noise can be unbearable.

A torn tendon's fibers also are likely to spasm. The tissue around the tendon then becomes inflamed. When these two occurrences happen at the same time, a bump forms under a person’s skin. This knot is normally directly over the torn tendon.

While a completely torn tendon is extremely painful, it is very rare. Most people who tear a tendon will only suffer tiny tears. This is called tendinitis. Tendinitis is much more common and can be caused by repeated actions, use of steroids, lifting wrong, certain antibiotics, or anything else that can stress a tendon. Those with this condition tend to heal faster than those with a ruptured tendon, but they may experience tendinitis again.

A person who begins suffering symptoms of a torn tendon must be evaluated by a doctor. Surgery often can be used to reattach the tendon if the doctor believes it will not heal by itself. If a person decides to forego surgery, he may need to wear a special brace that will allow the tendon to heal. Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to help bring down the swelling and to help the tendon heal. For severe pain, prescription pain medicine may be needed.

Prescription medication from a doctor may be necessary for severe pain from a torn tendon.
Prescription medication from a doctor may be necessary for severe pain from a torn tendon.

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