Natural Remedies for Tendonitis

Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon, the band of fibrous tissue that attaches muscles to bone. The condition causes pain and tenderness near the affected joint, which is worse with movement of that joint. Tendonitis most commonly occurs around the elbows, shoulders, and knees, but it can also affect the wrists, hips, and heels.

If you are experiencing symptoms of tendonitis, it's important to see your doctor to be properly diagnosed. Although certain natural remedies may show promise, so far scientific support for the claim that any form of alternative medicine can treat tendonitis is lacking. Here are a couple of remedies to consider.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the better-studied remedies for pain, including the pain of tendonitis. Reviews of studies have found that it shows some evidence of reducing tennis elbow pain in the short term, but no evidence of long term relief. However, another review of acupuncture for musculoskeletal pain came to a different conclusion when assessing the quality of the studies. If only those with a low risk of bias were included, the effect disappeared.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, pain is believed to result from blocked energy along invisible energy pathways of the body, called meridians, which are unblocked when acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin along those pathways.

Acupuncture may release natural pain-relieving opioids, send signals that calm the sympathetic nervous system, or trigger the release of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) and hormones.

Be sure to speak with your doctor before trying acupuncture. Side effects may include soreness, bruising, or bleeding at the needle location. Acupuncture may also cause temporary tiredness. Although rare, the needle may break or injure an internal organ or structure. Acupuncture may not be safe if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking "blood-thinning" medication.

Transverse Friction Massage

Transverse friction massage is a massage technique that is sometimes used for tendonitis. It is believed to help reduce pain, improve blood flow to the surrounding area, and prevent the formation of scar tissue and adhesions in the connective tissue.

The massage strokes of transverse friction massage are deep and are applied directly to the affected area, perpendicular to the direction of the tendon.

A review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews examined studies on transverse friction massage for lateral elbow tendinitis or knee tendinitis and concluded it was no more beneficial than other methods (such as physical therapy) for improving function, pain, or grip strength. The studies found were small and of low quality.

Massage therapy by a trained and licensed therapist is generally safe. Be sure that your massage therapist has your complete health history. People with cancer, recent or unhealed fractures, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, deep vein thrombosis, cancer, recent heart attack, burns or open wounds, or who are pregnant should speak to their doctor first.

In addition, friction massage should not be done over skin that is infected, broken, blistered, or has ulcerations. It should not be used for rheumatoid tendonitis, bursitis, nerve disorders, hematoma, or over areas where deep pressure could be harmful.

Side effects of massage may include temporary soreness, pain, and fatigue. Very rarely, massage may cause internal bleeding, temporary paralysis, and nerve damage, usually resulting from massage by an improperly qualified person.

Other Purported Remedies

These herbal supplements and natural remedies have been used by some for tendonitis, but evidence is lacking that they are effective.

  • White willow: The bark contains salicin, which has effects similar to aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in pain relief and reducing inflammation.
  • Turmeric: Curcumin in turmeric is being studied for its healing effects, but so far there have only been animal studies in tendinopathies.
  • Boswellia: Boswelic acid in Boswellia has anti-inflammatory properties, but it has not been studied for tendinopathies in humans.
  • Bromelain: Found in pineapples, this enzyme has been studied in inflammatory conditions. However, there have been contradicting studies on its effects in tendinopathies.

These herbal supplements can interact with other medications you may be taking and may not be appropriate for individuals with various health conditions, age, or other factors. Be sure to discuss them with your health care provider or pharmacist before you take them. Dietary supplements are not subject to routine testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The quality can vary.

What to Know Before Using Alternative Medicine

If you're considering the use of any form of alternative medicine for tendonitis, make sure to consult your physician first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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