With all the repetitive activities common in our modern lives, tendonitis will likely affect most of us at one time or another. Fortunately, tendonitis is often short-lived. Too much weeding over a weekend using the same muscles repetitively might cause some soreness for a few days with a quick recovery. Yet a much greater risk exists when we do the same activity for days on end, like using a computer mouse all day at work.
Inflammation and Tendonitis
Ever wonder what the “-itis” means at the end of a medical condition? It’s inflammation! Tendonitis is simply the inflammation of a tendon. The most common cause is overuse of a particular muscle with repetitive but minor impact actions, such as hitting a tennis ball with a racquet (tennis elbow) or jumping repeatedly over a long time (jumper’s knee).
Tendons connect muscles to our skeleton, so a constant pull on them can result in local inflammation, discomfort, pain, and in the most severe cases, tissue damage.
Why does the body create inflammation?
In most basic terms, inflammation is the body’s alarm system to get you to pay attention and stop what you are doing. Fluid or swelling in the connective tissue, heat production, and inflammatory markers create a pain signal. Swelling protects the tissues and creates reduced mobility that promotes healing.1Inflammation. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm#:~:text=Inflammation%20is%20a%20normal%20part
However, while the body is very good at creating inflammation, it’s always great at turning it off, especially if the movement or activity continues. This continued movement can aggravate inflamed tendons and lead, in some cases, to developing tendonitis.
What causes tendonitis?
Tendonitis, at its most simple level, is a result of repetitive strain and motion along with inflammation persisting in the tissue. This inflammation causes increased pain and swelling that can do more damage to the injured tendon itself and make activities more difficult and painful.
Five Natural Remedies for Tendonitis to Reduce Pain and Support Healing
The most natural of remedies is to rest! Stopping the activity and allowing the body time to heal itself is a powerful tool to relieve pain and provide relief to the affected area. But when rest alone isn’t enough, try these five natural remedies that can reduce inflammation, relieve intense pain, and support your healing process.
Putting ice on the affected area right after an activity is very helpful in turning off inflammation and decreasing pain, but what if the injury is persistent and you have active tendonitis? Contrast hydrotherapy uses alternating hot and cold water to bring blood flow to the affected area, flush out inflammation, and oxygenate the tissues.2Shadgan B, Pakravan AH, Hoens A, Reid WD. Contrast Baths, Intramuscular Hemodynamics, and Oxygenation as Monitored by Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. Journal of Athletic Training. 2018;53(8):782-787. doi:https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-127-17
You can quickly do this at home with hot and cold packs, but ideally, you should use hot and cold cloths soaked in water for a deeper and more penetrating heat and cold.
The “rule of threes” for contrast hydrotherapy at home
We recommend the “rule of threes” – three minutes hot, thirty seconds cold, and repeat three times. Make sure you always end with cold water or an ice pack!
What does this look like in practice? Let’s take an elbow as an example: Set up two vessels to hold your water (five-gallon buckets from the hardware store work well). Make sure to fill one with water as hot as you can safely stand, and fill the other with plenty of ice water.
Simply place your elbow in the hot water for three minutes, then dip it in the cold for thirty seconds, then immediately back to the hot water, and repeat the whole process three times. Again, make sure to end on cold. If you can do this three times a day, even better!
Apply topical anti-inflammatories
Topical creams and gels containing Capsaicin (cayenne pepper)3Anand P, Bley K. Topical capsaicin for pain management: therapeutic potential and mechanisms of action of the new high-concentration capsaicin 8% patch. British Journal of Anaesthesia. 2011;107(4):490-502. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/bja/aer260 and Menthol open up vessels to help deliver nutrients and oxygen and provide pain relief. Diclofenac gel, a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, is now available over-the-counter, relieving pain and inflammation when you need extra support.
Kinesotaping, the process of lifting the skin in affected areas using special strips of tape, has grown tremendously in popularity. You can now buy strips of kinesiology tape, often called KT tape, with instructions for different joints in the box or available online. Taping helps promote the flow of nutrients into the tissue for healing and facilitates the clearing of old fluids.
While we already talked about how important rest is, we’re mentioning it again because resting once isn’t typically enough! You need time to heal; that can mean extended rest or multiple breaks.
It can be difficult, but simply not using the tendon is one of the best things to do (easier said than done with an elbow). However, if you can avoid typing, using your computer mouse, playing tennis, or weeding the garden, it can be a fundamental form of meaningful treatment!
Systemic anti-inflammatory supplements
Systemic anti-inflammatory supplements can also be helpful due to their powerful anti-inflammatory properties. These anti-inflammatories include but are not limited to, Curcumin/Turmeric, Boswellia,4Henrotin Y, Dierckxsens Y, Delisse G, Seidel L, Albert A. Curcuminoids and Boswellia serrata extracts combination decreases tendinopathy symptoms: findings from an open-label post-observational study. Current Medical Research and Opinion. 2021;37(3):423-430. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/03007995.2020.1860923 or Ginger.
The Impacts of Tendonitis
Tendonitis is far from life-threatening, but it can have a tangible impact on day-to-day life. Fortunately, natural treatment options are available, so you don’t need to jump straight to surgery or use harsh pharmaceuticals immediately. These natural remedies can help with acute pain, improve blood flow, and promote healing in the affected area. As a reminder, ongoing or acute pain should always be treated by a licensed medical provider, physical therapist, or emergency care professional.
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
- 1Inflammation. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm#:~:text=Inflammation%20is%20a%20normal%20part
- 2Shadgan B, Pakravan AH, Hoens A, Reid WD. Contrast Baths, Intramuscular Hemodynamics, and Oxygenation as Monitored by Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. Journal of Athletic Training. 2018;53(8):782-787. doi:https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-127-17
- 3Anand P, Bley K. Topical capsaicin for pain management: therapeutic potential and mechanisms of action of the new high-concentration capsaicin 8% patch. British Journal of Anaesthesia. 2011;107(4):490-502. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/bja/aer260
- 4Henrotin Y, Dierckxsens Y, Delisse G, Seidel L, Albert A. Curcuminoids and Boswellia serrata extracts combination decreases tendinopathy symptoms: findings from an open-label post-observational study. Current Medical Research and Opinion. 2021;37(3):423-430. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/03007995.2020.1860923