What do playing tennis, golf, running, shoveling, painting, raking, and throwing all have in common? Yes, they’re all physical activities. However, there’s more; when done too much or with poor form, these are all activities that could trigger tendinitis.
You may have heard of tendinitis (also spelled tendonitis), and have some vague notion that it’s painful and takes a long time to heal. Your tendons are tough bands of connective tissue that attach your muscles to bones. Your tendons are thick and fibrous, and made to withstand heavy loads. Ligaments are very similar to tendons in structure, except that ligaments connect bones to other bones.
Tendinitis occurs when a tendon has become inflamed from trauma, overuse or repetitive stress. Over time, if the tendon continues to be aggravated, the fibers may degenerate and become distorted and develop micro tears. This condition is called tendinosis, and tends to be more chronic and involve less inflammation than tendinitis.
Tendinitis occurs most commonly at the base of your thumb, elbow, shoulder, knee, hip, and Achilles tendon. Tendinitis can be a frustrating condition because it can take up to six months or more to heal. It may take up to a year or more if your tendinitis progresses to chronic tendinosis, and even longer if scar tissue develops as the result micro tears.
Standard treatment for tendinitis are to rest the affected tendon, ice, the use of NSAIDs for pain and inflammation, and physical therapy. For severe pain or chronic cases that aren’t healing, your doctor may recommend steroid injections into the tendon to decrease inflammation. However, if your tendinitis has progressed into chronic tendinosis, steroid injections may not be recommended, as the tendon fibers are damaged, but not necessarily inflamed. In that case, injecting steroids may only serve to aggravate and further damage the already injured tendon.
Because tendinitis is slow to heal despite the best of care, many people turn to acupuncture for help. Research on the effectiveness of acupuncture for specific tendon problems is promising, and scientists have found that acupuncture or acupuncture plus electrical stimulation is more helpful than just rest alone.
There are a number of ways to explain why acupuncture is a valuable treatment for tendonitis problems. Acupuncture helps relieve the pain associated with tendinitis by releasing the chemical adenosine, which suppresses the transmission of pain signals traveling to your brain. In addition, acupuncture affects your brain chemistry to boost the circulation of specific neurotransmitters that act as your body’s own opioid system. Acupuncture reduces inflammation in the area of injury, where the needles have been placed, by increasing the circulation of white blood cells that help to clear away inflammation, and by increasing circulation overall.
In addition, your tendons are connective tissue made of collagen. When acupuncture needles are placed in or near the tendons, it creates tiny wounds, which as they heal, promote an increase in collagen and elastin; the very building blocks of your injured tendon.
Good advice for tendon problems involves patience and participation. Patience comes from understanding that it often takes months for tendinitis or tendinosis to heal completely. Participation means taking care of your injured tendon by resting it, avoiding aggravating activities, and seeking out appropriate treatments, including acupuncture.
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