Tendonitis (or tendinopathy) is a common injury that can be caused by sports, accidents, or repetitive use of a body part. It is marked by pain and soreness in the connective tissue and it is often a persistent injury that sometimes doesn’t go away with the usual protocol of rest and ice. For an athlete or a computer programmer who uses their wrist on a daily basis, wrist tendonitis can be devastating—even disabling.
In tendinopathy, the tendon becomes irritated from strain, tightness, or excessive use. In the medical literature, it is described as a “non-inflammatory proliferative disorder,” which suggests the discomfort is not caused by inflammatory cytokines, such as in a sprain. In lower levels of reactive tendonitis, the body is responding to excessive use. In more advanced cases, known as degenerative tendonitis, the tendon tissue has completely broken down and needs time to repair.
“Some of the strongest medical evidence for treating tendonitis supports the use of eccentric exercises—which is slowly and deliberately uncurling or unflexing a muscle from a contraction,” says Dr. Bomi Joseph, consultant to the Peak Health Center in California. Some chiropractors and physical therapists treat wrist tendonitis by prescribing eccentric exercises using a resistance bar.
Other therapists have different views on how to treat wrist tendonitis. Some therapists contend that while wrist tendonitis feels like a “wrist injury,” it is more likely to originate in the forearm—more specifically, wrist tendonitis may be caused by tightness and muscle spasms in the forearm. The tight, contracted muscles form knots in the forearm and cause the overall muscle to shorten. This pulls on the forearm and the worst discomfort is felt in the wrist tendon.
Trigger Point Therapy
Rolfing or trigger-point massage may be helpful for treating tendonitis in different areas of the body. Getting bodywork from a professional is always the best option. But if you are unable to find someone with this specialized training, you may be able to work on yourself. In the video below, a Rolfer describes the forearm stretches and self-administered trigger point therapy that he has found to be highly effective for treating wrist tendonitis:
Other anecdotal reports describe how people have found great success treating tendonitis with trigger point therapy, using myofacial release rollers such as the Armaid and Rolflex. By rolling the forearm very slowly and deliberately through a set of therapeutic rollers, finding the knots or tight spots and holding on to them until release, people have reported a profound tension release and relief from wrist tendonitis. Sometimes people get almost immediate relief after a single session, while others have to work on the forearms for up to 20 minutes, twice daily for up to 2 weeks before they notice relief.
Red Light / Low Level Laser Therapy
Another treatment for tendonitis that is anecdotally reported as being effective for tendonitis pain is red light therapy. Red light, also called “cold laser” or “low level laser therapy" (LLLT), is high intensity light that has the capability of passing through up to an inch of body tissues, meaning it can effectively penetrate forearm muscles and tendons. Lasers can make red light and LEDs can also be effective. There is at least some weak scientific evidence that red light therapy can cause tight muscles and tendons to relax, as described in this study on how the Tendlite red light therapy device treated TMJ. In addition to encouraging relaxation, there is evidence to suggest that red light therapy strengthens the mitochondria of the cells’ “power plants” that create the ATP energy currency molecule. With red light therapy, cells can make more ATP and create more energy. With more energy, cells can rejuvenate more easily and this may help repair any potential damage to the tendons faster.
So, if you are suffering from tendonitis and you have followed the traditional medical advice of resting, ice, NSAID drugs to no avail, you may want to consider alternative therapies like trigger point massage and red light therapy. Talk to a licensed physical therapist or experienced massage therapist and get them to examine your body for more detailed advice.