Tendonitis is a term that you may have heard before, and is a fairly common injury. A tendon is the connection between the muscle and the bone, and tendonitis is inflammation or irritation of a tendon. This injury is typically caused by overuse or repetitive action. While it can occur in any tendon in the body, it occurs in some areas more often than others, giving the injuries to those areas their own names. Golfer’s elbows, tennis elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, jumper’s knee, etc. all fall into the tendonitis category. Left unaddressed tendonitis can progress into tendonosis. Tendinosis is a chronic condition that leads to degeneration of the inflamed tendon. Tendinosis is more severe than tendonitis and more difficult to treat.
The goal is to avoid either of these conditions from occurring in the first place, but if you do end up experiencing tendonitis here are some things to think about. Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon. Inflammation is commonly defined as a reddened, hot, swollen, and often painful or stiff area of the body. This is true as a description of what inflammation looks like, BUT also remember that inflammation is a bodily process controlled by your immune system. The body is trying to repair or heal itself. Keep this in mind while recovering for several reasons. One, you want to eliminate what is triggering the inflammation if possible. In a repetitive motion or overuse injuries this can be addressed by assessing movement patterns and posture. Second, you don’t want to stifle the inflammation process itself, this is how the body heals.
Once the tendonitis occurs, it's time to start focusing on healing. Kelly Starrett said in a training I attended “There are no fast healers. You either heal at the rate of a human being… or slower.” It’s something I think about for myself and treating patients. There are alot of great tools and treatment modalities in the work, but nothing is going to bypass the body's healing process. However we can optimize it! Let’s talk about some ways to do that.
As I mentioned, inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process that should not be blocked, but it should also not be left unmanaged. When an injury happens in the body, white blood cells are sent to the area as part of the healing process. Fluid from the blood cells leaks into the area which causes the signs of inflammation (redness, swelling, pain). We can manage this by encouraging circulation to the area. Increased circulation can help flush the area and decongest the tissue. This can be done with manual techniques, such as massage, acupuncture or electro-acupuncture, as well as movement. If the area is painful to touch, body work on an area above the injury could also be beneficial in improving blood flow to the injury. For example, massage or electrostimulation to the thigh could be beneficial in treating achilles tendonitis. Will acupuncture “fix” tendonitis? No, it will not magically repair the tendon, but it can help optimize your recovery by helping your body do its job more efficiently.
Now let’s talk about self-care. Yes, going to a professionally trained healthcare provider is very important for assessment and treatment, BUT the treatment should not stop there. Realistically, how often are you going to be in that treatment room? Once, maybe twice a week for an hour. What about all those other hours during the days and weeks you are recovering? Don’t put your healing on hold and only optimize your healing for the time you are in the office. There are plenty of things you can do at home or work throughout the day to keep that road to recovery from growing longer. (This is a very basic and abbreviated list)
On a final note, you may have noticed I didn’t mention icing the injury. This wasn’t a mistake. Ice is something I rarely if ever recommend for an injury. If you are interested in learning why, check out this article here.