It affects athletes, office workers and weekend warriors, and can cause acute or chronic pain that interferes with daily life. Tendinitis is the swelling or inflammation of a tendon — the thick, ropey thread that attaches muscles to the bone.
It often develops because of overuse or repetitive use, and is common in joints such as the knee, shoulder, elbow and wrist. Other names for tendinitis are:
The best way to treat tendinitis is rest, applying ice to the affected area and taking anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen. Supportive devices such as knee sleeves and wrist braces can also be worn to immobilize the affected joint to allow it to rest. Some patients find relief from acupuncture, which uses very small needles to help the body’s vital energy called qi (pronounced “chee”) circulate through the body.
Dr. Victoria Risovanny, a licensed acupuncturist at Sharp Coronado Hospital, shares the following tips for people considering acupuncture for tendinitis pain.
What types of tendinitis can acupuncture help treat?
Acupuncture is beneficial for any type of tendinitis. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctors diagnose such tendon pain as “stagnation of qi and blood in the associated channel.” Acupuncture channels are spread over the entire body. When a patient seeks acupuncture for tendinitis caused by a repetitive motion, an acupuncturist would identify the affected channel and select appropriate acupuncture points on the channel to treat the condition. These points may be located directly over the painful area, as well as away from it.
When should someone with tendinitis seek help with acupuncture?
Like with other health conditions, it is always better to treat tendinitis as soon as possible. I recommend seeking an acupuncturist’s help when symptoms first develop. Acupuncture can be beneficial in treating chronic tendinitis, but will require more treatments to see improvements.
In addition to acupuncture, a Chinese medicine practitioner may recommend ice therapy, heat therapy or Chinese liniments to help ease pain and discomfort. In any case — acute or chronic — it is important to find out what caused the tendinitis in the first place. Checking the ergonomics of a computer station or biomechanics of sports movements may be necessary to prevent recurring injury of the tendon.
How does it help reduce swelling and pain?
Although the exact mechanism of acupuncture is still being researched, several studies have shown acupuncture to increase the dilation of blood vessels around inserted needles, along with the production of the anti-inflammatory molecule adenosine.
To treat tendinitis, acupuncturists often combine needles with electrostimulation. Acupuncture needles are inserted into and around an injured tendon. Then electrostimulation is directly applied to increase collagen repair. This type of treatment is comfortable and in many cases effective in reducing pain and swelling.
How long would someone need to have acupuncture treatments to treat tendinitis?
A patient with an acute condition may need only a few treatments versus a patient with a chronic condition that is being regularly aggravated by the same repetitive motion that caused the injury in the first place. A patient’s overall health, age and lifestyle also affect the speed of recovery.
Most patients feel pain relief after the first acupuncture session but several more will be necessary until the tendon heals. At the initial visit, a practitioner can formulate an individual treatment plan after learning all of the necessary details about the patient.
Learn more about integrative and complementary medicine at Sharp HealthCare.