Natural Solutions for Tendonitis and Inflammation
As we age, feeling some effects of arthritis and inflammation is common. Joint pain and tendonitis may be part of getting older, but there are effective solutions.
A couple of years ago I started to notice some increased stiffness in my wrists, hands, and fingers. I have had the occasional symptoms of minor arthritis, but I’ve found that exercise and anti-inflammatory supplements have usually been successful in managing them. Even with my healthy diet and lifestyle, I woke one morning and found my left thumb was making a clicking noise when I bent it. As the day progressed, the problem seemed to go away, but gradually the symptoms worsened. After some time, it got to the point that I couldn't bend my thumb without discomfort, and when I did it resulted in a very painful snap. I increased my normal dosage of supplements (curcumin and boswellia, two of the most powerful anti-inflammatory herbs) and doubled my daily fish oil supplements, but I didn’t see much improvement.
I did some initial research and started doing some exercises, but nothing was making a difference. I visited a local sports clinic and met with a physician experienced in this area who X-rayed my hand. The X-rays showed minor arthritis, and that I had developed trigger thumb - a type of tendonitis that afflicts the tendon that controls the thumb. The doctor recommended six weeks of physiotherapy, and if that wasn’t successful, the remaining options would be a cortisone shot (which can often correct the problem, but only temporarily) or even surgery.
I made an appointment with the recommended physiotherapist who used a variety of treatments including laser, TENS and putting my hand in a hot wax bath. I was also provided with a series of daily exercises to perform. After three visits, I knew that this particular approach was not helping, as the symptoms were continuing to worsen.
Inflammation: NSAIDs vs SPMs
Inflammation is a natural, protective, and desirable response to illness and injury, but once the immune system has done its job to reduce the initial inflammation, ideally the body will again attain homeostasis. This process is the body striving to maintain a healthy state through constant adjustment of biochemical and physiological pathways.
When facing pain or recovering from an injury we often seek a quick fix, but resolving inflammation can be a complex, slow process. The first solution many people try is anti-inflammatory drugs, but the problem with acetaminophen and conventional NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen) is that they can also suppress immune defenses, resulting in adverse side effects that include hearing loss, tinnitus, and liver damage.
A whole host of health conditions are associated with an unregulated inflammatory response, where the anti-inflammatory chemicals produced by the body continue to be produced after the initial inflammation has been resolved. Serious health problems including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and a number of gastrointestinal and respiratory conditions as well as cancers are all linked to chronic inflammation. This has inspired researchers to find a method of resolving the inflammatory response by mediating further inflammation.
Lipid mediators are the anti-inflammatory compounds in fish oil that include lipoxins, resolvins, protectins, and maresins. Collectively known as specialized pro-resolving mediators, SPMs show great promise and are gaining traction as potential therapeutic agents to help resolve the source of inflammation, as opposed to conventional anti-inflammatory agents that inhibit inflammatory pathways to block pain.
SPMs signal the immune system to stop responding to pro-inflammatory signals, helping the body achieve homeostasis, and inhibit further inflammation. Also called (resolution agonists), SPMs work to turn off the inflammatory response, helping to prevent bone loss and treat inflammation-related muscle injuries like tendonitis and plantar fasciitis.
EPA and DHA are the well-known omega-3 essential fatty acids derived from fish oils that are required for many beneficial biological activities, but it's the SPMs in fish oil that have the most powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Recent research found that by concentrating SPMs, producing a more effective anti-inflammatory response was possible, without the side effects of drugs. SPMs are produced in the body, but aging, diet, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, stress, and over-consumption of omega-6 fats can limit SPM production. Increasing the intake of fish oil alone will not raise SPM levels sufficiently to lower inflammation, especially as we age.
After researching SPMs further and as my trigger thumb was not improving, I started taking SPM Active. This powerful formula from Metagenics concentrates the equivalent amount of SPMs found in 5 gallons of fish oil into just two capsules. After three weeks, my trigger thumb disappeared. The problem was always most noticeable in the morning, and I now wake up with no stiffness in my hands. As I had already scheduled a follow-up appointment with the doctor, I was happy to meet with him and show him my healthy hands with no pain or clicking. He was pleased with the progress and I was thrilled that I wouldn't need a cortisone shot or surgery.
After my symptoms improved, I learned from Dr. Terry Zachary, a former golf professional, about an innovative hand exercise product he developed called Handmaster Plus. There are nine muscles that open the hand, and nine muscles that close it. Trigger thumb, trigger finger, and elbow tendonitis can be aggravated by an imbalance in these muscles. It's natural to focus on the muscles that close the hand, but it's not as intuitive to work on strengthening the muscles that open it. When the muscles that close the hand become dominant, repetitive stress and strain injuries to the hand, wrist, and elbow are common. Dr. Zachary’s Handmaster Plus was designed to work all 18 muscles to help rehabilitate and prevent hand injuries. It also helps ease arthritis symptoms, boost circulation, and improve grip strength (which often weakens with age). The Handmaster Plus helps develop strong, well-balanced hand muscles that can be especially beneficial for musicians, athletes, and others that require hand strength and dexterity.
This unique exercise combined with proper nutrition including SPMs provided me with relief from trigger thumb, and I'm happy to report that two years later, I have had no recurrence. Commitment to a natural approach can help manage inflammation and ease the symptoms of tendonitis and arthritis without the side effects of drugs.