Aging Can Take Major Toll on Women's Tendons

Patient Expert

I was looking forward to a field trip to hang out with a friend who lives in another city on this weekend. I had a whole list of fun things that we could do, such as hitting the museums and shopping at a few unique stores. When I emailed her to confirm our outing, she replied that she was going "to be a big, fat whiney baby" and cancel the trip. She was suffering from a sore foot and her doctor diagnosed it as "insertional Achilles tendinitis." Then later in the week, I ended up taking lunch over to another friend who just had surgery on her plantar fasciitis, which is a thin ligament that connects the heel to the front of the foot.  She previously had treatment done on the other foot for this same condition.

Both of these female friends have reached middle age and are in various stages of the menopausal transition. So that begs the question - are our tendons at increased risk for injury as we age? A new study suggests that they might be.

First of all, let's get a definition of tendons. These are fibrous connective tissues that attach muscle to the bone. They also attach muscles to structures such as the eyeball. The tendon helps move the bone or the structure. There are about 4,000 tendons throughout the body and you use them every time you bend a knee, rotate a shoulder or grasp something with your hand.

A new study out of the United Kingdom suggests that the tendons in the body break down with age as they lose the ability to repair themselves.   However, researchers don't understand the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms that cause these breakdowns to happen.

The researchers in this study analyzed proteins and protein fragments from tendon tissue taken from horses in all ages. These protein materials were taken from injured horses as well as healthy animals. Their evaluation indicated that the protein profiles have distinct differences based on age. These differences involve the levels of protein that are used to organize the tissue structure and regulate cell tension.   The researchers also identified new protein fragments in the healthy tendons of the older horses. The researchers also found distinct protein profiles in injured tendons of young horses and injured tendons in older horses.   These findings suggest that the maintenance and repair of tendon tissue tends to be more difficult as we grow older.

So what can we do to protect these tendons as we age?

  • Regular physical activity helps keep tendons strong and can lower the risk of both injury and developing tendonitis. A 2013 study found that moderate exercise may be especially helpful in keeping tendons healthy as we age.
  • Be sure to warm up and stretch before you begin a physical activity in order to prevent a sudden injury.
  • Diet can make a difference. For instance foods that have active enzymes such as bromelain and papain to nourish tendons. These foods include fresh fruits and vegetables (especially pineapple and papaya) and fermented food. Also, foods that are rich in vitamin C help to produce collagen, which is the prevalent protein in tendon tissue. These foods include peppers, papayas, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and spinach. Foods rich in calcium also boost tendon protection. These foods include fermented milk products (such as yogurt and kefir), sardines, salmon, collard greens, spinach, okra, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts and bok choy.
  • Deep tissue massage may offer benefits for tendon health.
  • If you do develop tendinitis, you need to reduce the pain and swelling through resting the swollen tendon.   You may be given prescription medications to relieve inflammation, take steroid injections or to wear a splint or brace. Take the time to heal and move forward slowly.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

MedlinePlus. (2012). Tendon vs. ligament.

Michaud, T. (ND). Managing Achillies tendon injuries. Take the Magic Step.

National Institutes of Health.  (2014). Protect your tendons.

Paddock, C. (2014). Age may reduce ability of tendons to repair themselves. Medical News Today.

Scott, D. (2013). Food for tendons.

University of East Anglia. (2013). Moderate exercise could be good for your tendons, research shows. ScienceDaily.