Updated on 6/22/2005
Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon, the fibrous structure that connects muscle to bone. Usually, tendonitis stems from injury or overuse, and it most commonly occurs in the shoulder, wrist, heel (Achilles tendon) and elbow. The principal symptoms are pain and tenderness that are aggravated by movement of the affected area.
Rest can speed recovery, and you can relieve the pain and reduce the inflammation somewhat by applying heat or cold to the affected area. The conventional treatment for this condition is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and, if necessary, steroid injections into the tendon sheath. NSAIDS can be hard on your stomach, and I would avoid steroid shots if possible.
Instead, here are some alternatives that can help:
- DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide): Made from wood pulp, this chemical penetrates the skin and promotes healing. You can buy it at a health food store. Paint a 70 percent solution of DMSO on the sore area with cotton and let it dry. You may feel warmth or stinging, and experience a garlicky taste in your mouth. Try it three times a day for three days. If there is no improvement, stop using it. If you do feel some improvement, apply DMSO twice a day for three more days, then once a day for a final three days. (If you can only find more concentrated products, dilute them by adding distilled water.)
- Acupuncture: A good treatment. Look for a practitioner with experience in treating tendonitis.
- A mixture of natural anti-inflammatory herbs, including ginger and turmeric. Follow dosage directions on the product.
- Homeopathic remedies: Ruta or Rhus Tox at a potency of 6c to 30c, available in health food stores, is the treatment most often recommended. My colleague Iris Bell, MD, Director of Research here at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, advises taking the lower potencies more often and the higher potencies less often. Stop treatment when symptoms are clearly improving, but you can start again if improvement plateaus or symptoms worsen again. Dr. Bell cautions against using this remedy chronically without supervision by a qualified homeopathic practitioner.
To prevent further bouts of tendonitis be sure to avoid whatever movement or stress may have caused the problem. If the problem results from exercise, I recommend consulting a physical therapist to learn how to strengthen the affected muscle and the area around it.
Andrew Weil, M.D.