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Review article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Tendon pain - what are the mechanisms behind it?

Ackermann, Paul W.; Alim, Md Abdul; Pejler, Gunnar; Peterson, Magnus


Objectives Management of chronic tendon pain is difficult and controversial. This is due to poor knowledge of the underlying pathophysiology of chronic tendon pain, priorly known as tendinitis but now termed tendinopathy. The objective of this topical review was to synthesize evolving information of mechanisms in tendon pain, using a comprehensive search of the available literature on this topic.Content This review found no correlations between tendon degeneration, collagen separation or neovascularization and chronic tendon pain. The synthesis demonstrated that chronic tendon pain, however, is characterized by excessive nerve sprouting with ingrowth in the tendon proper, which corresponds to alterations oberserved also in other connective tissues of chronic pain conditions. Healthy, painfree tendons are devoid of nerve fibers in the tendon proper, while innervation is confined to tendon surrounding structures, such as sheaths.Summary: Chronic painful tendons exhibit elevated amounts of pain neuromediators, such as glutamate and substance p as well as up-regulated expression and excitability of pain receptors, such as the glutamate receptor NMDAR1 and the SP receptor NK1, found on ingrown nerves and immune cells. Increasing evidence indicates that mast cells serve as an important link between the peripheral nervous system and the immune systems resulting in so called neurogenic inflammation. Chronic painful tendons exhibit (1) protracted ingrowth of sensory nerves (2) elevated pain mediator levels and (3) up-regulated expression and excitability of pain receptors, participating in (4) neuro-immune pathways involved in pain regulation. Current treatments that entail the highest scientific evidence to mitigate chronic tendon pain include eccentric exercises and extracorporeal shockwave, which both target peripheral neoinnervation aiming at nerve regeneration.Outlook: Potential mechanism-based pharmacological treatment approaches could be developed by blocking promotors of nerve ingrowth, such as NGF, and promoting inhibitors of nerve ingrowth, like semaphorins, as well as blocking glutamate-NMDA-receptor pathways, which are prominent in chronic tendon pain.


mast cells; nerve tissue proteins; neuronal plasticity; pain; receptors; tendon

Published in

Scandinavian Journal of Pain
2023, Volume: 23, number: 1, pages: 14-24
Publisher: De Gruyter Open Ltd

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