About two years ago, I suffered from a bout of tendinitis in my right elbow. Most of the time it caught me off guard because it wouldn’t be particularly painful until, suddenly, it was. As soon as I did any pushing, pulling, or curling motion, a sharp, no-nonsense pain reminded me that my elbow was out of commission.
Tendinitis or Tendinosis?
Your tendons are thick, fibrous bands of tissue that connect your muscles to bones. They’re made out of collagen fibers, but structured in such a way as to be strong enough to handle heavy loads.
Tendinitis is an inflammation of your tendons from overuse, repetitive motion, or trauma. However, over time an inflamed or injured tendon can develop tendinosis, in which the tendon is no longer inflamed but the fibers have become twisted and disorganized, and the tendon has developed micro tears.
Essentially, inflammation of your affected tendon is the first stage of tendinitis, and it may heal or it may progress to more chronic tendinosis.
Some common sites of tendinitis include your elbows, Achilles tendons, thumbs, knees, hips, and shoulders. Unless you catch it early, tendinitis can be slow to heal, taking about three to four months on average. If it becomes more chronic tendinosis, it can take up to a year, and if scar tissue develops in the affected tendon, even longer.
Common Western treatments for tendinitis include rest, physical therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers, and steroid injections into the tendon to decrease inflammation. However, once your tendinitis has become chronic, the tendon is no longer inflamed, and repeated steroid injections may only further damage the tendon.
In Chinese medicine, tendinitis is considered to be a blockage, in which circulation to the area is decreased and the healing process is hampered. Also, when viewed through the lens of Chinese medicine, not all tendinitis or tendinosis is created equal. Your practitioner will want to know if the affected area is hot and feels better with ice, or is aggravated by applying ice. Also, they’ll want to know if the area is swollen, red, and whether the pain radiates to other areas.
Furthermore, your practitioner will need to know about the general state of your health, in order to make a complete diagnosis and develop an effective treatment strategy.
Because tendinitis seems to take forever to heal, more and more people are seeking out acupuncture to help speed up the healing process. Researchers have found that acupuncture with electrical stimulation can be an effective treatment for tendinitis, far more than just rest alone.
Essentially, acupuncture decreases local inflammation in the early stages of tendinitis and increases circulation to the area, which helps with collagen repair and to stimulate healing in more chronic cases of tendinosis.
While I’m not exactly sure what caused my tendinitis, acupuncture was definitely a part of my treatment plan. Unfortunately, I didn’t give my elbow pain much attention in the early stages, which I believe prolonged my symptoms for the better part of a year. When I finally dealt with it, a combination of rest, acupuncture, and switching up my exercise routine was what finally got my elbow back in action.
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com