Tendonitis is a common culprit behind bodily aches and pains – and it’s not just an issue for athletes. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says more than 70,000 Americans miss work each year due to the pain or stiffness of tendonitis. Fortunately, holistic therapies like acupuncture, a technique derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine, can help.
What is Tendonitis?
Tendonitis (also sometimes spelled tendinitis) is a medical term used to describe irritation, inflammation, or swelling of a tendon – a type of strong, flexible connective tissue that joins muscle to bone throughout the body, enabling us to move.
When a tendon or group of tendons is irritated, it often results in pain and achiness, tenderness, and swelling. Tendonitis can affect nearly any body part with both bone and muscle, from the arms and legs to the heels, shoulders, fingers, or neck.
It can often be traced to a repetitive motion, whether in sports, a career, or daily life, such as lifting weights or even using a hair dryer. There are several shorthand names for specific types of tendonitis that refer to their common athletic culprits, such as tennis elbow and jumper’s knee.
Can Acupuncture Help Tendonitis?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture is used to balance the body’s qi, or essential energy, which in turn alleviates pain and promotes healing. Modern studies show that this ancient practice, in which tiny needles are placed in targeted points on the body by a skilled practitioner, can in fact offer pain relief, improved circulation, and better mobility for people dealing with muscle knots, sciatica, and more.
Though tendonitis is common, there’s no single, gold-standard Western medical treatment for this condition. Many doctors suggest pain relieving medicines, steroid injections, or even surgery, which may be less than ideal for some.
Another treatment called dry needling is sometimes offered by physical therapists, but there are some key differences from acupuncture to keep in mind.
Many patients certainly turn to holistic treatments like acupuncture to treat stubborn tendonitis, and ultimately find success.
What Types of Tendonitis Can Acupuncture Treat?
Acupuncture can be used to treat any type of tendonitis affecting a part of the body accessible by an acupuncturist’s needles. That means tendonitis in the neck, shoulders, back, legs, and arms, for example, are all fair game.
Acupuncture can help treat many common forms like wrist tendonitis, elbow tendonitis (tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow), Achilles tendonitis, patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee), and shoulder tendonitis (swimmer’s shoulder).
If you’re experiencing any type of tendonitis, whether it’s been ongoing and chronic or you just noticed the problem, acupuncture is a great treatment option to try.
The Benefits of Acupuncture for Tendonitis
Acupuncture is the most widely practiced traditional medicine therapy in the world. The benefits of acupuncture are widely studied, even in the United States, and many of the broadly positive effects of this ancient treatment modality also apply to tendonitis in particular.
Research shows that acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain, for example. This may be because acupuncture needles work to stimulate the body’s central nervous system, which prompts biochemical changes that promote healing.
Though tendonitis may in some cases resolve on its own with extended rest, acupuncture may help speed recovery while it lessens the worst of the discomfort.
There are also studies to suggest that acupuncture can help improve range of motion, which can be a challenge with some types of tendonitis.
Reducing inflammation is another major benefit of acupuncture for tendonitis. By definition, there is inflammation in or around a tendon when tendonitis is diagnosed. Acupuncture is known to trigger a powerful anti-inflammatory response, and is used as a treatment for a wide range of inflammatory conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
In fact, researchers at Harvard University recently pinpointed the special type of neuron (that is, a cell making up the brain and nervous system) that is believed to be responsible for acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory effects.
How Many Sessions are Typically Required to See Improvement?
While many patients feel an improved overall sense of well-being after just the very first session, acupuncture is absolutely a treatment that works best when made a habit. The ideal number of sessions for treating tendonitis will depend on a number of factors, including how severe the pain or dysfunction is, how long it’s been going on, what part of the body it’s affecting, and whether any other overlapping or related conditions are involved.
The first time you meet with your acupuncturist, they’ll listen to your symptoms, experience, and concerns, and develop a plan specifically tailored to you and your recovery. They can advise you on the timeline and frequency that will best suit your healing from tendonitis.
Many practitioners recommend a weekly or biweekly acupuncture schedule for the best results. You may start out visiting the studio more frequently, then taper off as symptoms begin to improve.
Because of the individual nature of injuries like tendonitis, there is no set number of sessions that will guarantee an improvement. When it comes to acupuncture for any health condition, or even for preventive health maintenance, the most important thing is to receive treatment regularly and consistently.
Cost is a factor for many patients, but you may be surprised to find acupuncture just as affordable as other health services like physical therapy or massage.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
Acupuncture is a low-risk treatment, especially with a trained and licensed therapist. As with any healthcare procedure, some people experience side effects like nausea, rashes, or bruising that tend to resolve within days or hours.
If you have anxiety around needles, acupuncture could trigger a lightheaded or fainting response. It may help to remember that the needles are tiny and hair-thin, and much smaller than needles used for drawing blood or giving immunizations at the doctor.
More serious risks are very rare, but include bleeding or infections, particularly if non-sterile needles are used (which should never occur under high-quality care).
Managing Tendonitis at Home
When in-person treatments like acupuncture aren’t feasible, there are ways to manage your tendonitis at home.
Rest, Ice & Stretch
Do everything possible to avoid the motion that aggravates your tendonitis pain. When you’re able, apply an ice pack with a towel underneath to the area for 15 minutes at a time. Ice can help reduce inflammation and dull any discomfort.
Adding a routine of simple, gentle stretches to your day can help you keep range of motion and keep your blood circulation healthy while you take a break from more strenuous athletic activity to allow the tendonitis time to heal.
Medicines & Supplements
Many doctors recommend over the counter anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, which are easy to take at home. Simply follow the label to find the right dose and schedule for you.
There are also non-pharmaceutical options available, like herbal supplements that can help ease discomfort with plant-based ingredients. WTHN’s Head to Toe Relief supplement, for example, supports relief from minor body aches and promotes overall body, head, and joint comfort with herbs like corydalis, frankincense, and safflower.
Acupressure & Cupping
Other Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies use some of the same principles as acupuncture, but are possible to practice yourself at home.
Cupping is another type of therapy common in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This technique uses suction to increase circulation, which can help with some types of pain. You can visit a studio for cupping by a practitioner, or try it at home with WTHN’s body cupping kit.
Regular Acupuncture for Tendonitis
If you’re experiencing tendonitis in any part of your body, acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment to consider. Explore acupuncture memberships today at WTHN.