Overuse disorders of tendons, or tendinopathies, present a challenge to sports physicians, surgeons, and other health care professionals dealing with athletes. The Achilles, patellar, and supraspinatus tendons are particularly vulnerable to injury and often difficult to manage successfully. Inflammation was believed central to the pathologic process, but histopathologic evidence has confirmed the failed healing response nature of these conditions. Excessive or inappropriate loading of the musculotendinous unit is believed to be central to the disease process, although the exact mechanism by which this occurs remains uncertain. Additionally, the location of the lesion (for example, the midtendon or osteotendinous junction) has become increasingly recognized as influencing both the pathologic process and subsequent management.
The mechanical, vascular, neural, and other theories that seek to explain the pathologic process are explored in this article. Recent developments in the nonoperative management of chronic tendon disorders are reviewed, as is the rationale for surgical intervention. Recent surgical advances, including minimally invasive tendon surgery, are reviewed. Potential future management strategies, such as stem cell therapy, growth factor treatment, and gene transfer, are also discussed.