Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Artist’s Guide to Tendonitis

            For three years now I have battled tendinitis in both my arms. At its worst, I could barely lift a pencil and couldn’t drive. And just when it was getting better, I relapsed. I put off seeing anyone about it for a long time because I, like so many in the US, have terrible health insurance.
            It’s funny…if you break a bone a bone or crack a rib, you heal in six weeks. But tendinitis can take years to heal. But although I still wrestle with it, it has gotten better. Every month there’s some amount of improvement. So for anyone out there who’s fighting this same beast, let me tell you that the pain you feel now will go away. Don’t give up. Even if you never completely heal, as some do not, you will still improve dramatically. The trick is to face it head on.
            What I mean by this is that you need to be proactive in finding treatment. I don’t just mean going to the doctor, although certainly you need to do that. You may even consider cortisone shots if your doctor suggests it. But you need to seek a range of treatments. Often there is no one magical fix, but rather a host of options.
            What has worked best for me is a three pronged approach which is as follows:
  • Physical Therapy
    A good physical therapist will give you exercises to slowly but surely regain strength, flexibility, and toughen up those tendons and muscles. They will be able to better pinpoint the exact muscles that are affected by your tendonitis. I recommend going to a physical therapist that runs their own practice, as they have seen a variety of injuries from all walks of life. They are the seasoned veterans. So many clinics these days just focus on sports injuries and the like.
  • Stretching
    I cannot emphasize this enough, but you need to do stretches. I recommend picking up a book on myofascial stretching. Although your problem may not have to do with fascia at all, I have found that the stretches in these books target specific muscle groups and do wonders for tendonitis. The trick is to perform each stretch for a long period of time- 90 to 120 seconds, 3 times each.
  • Massage Therapy
    A lot of people think of massages as a luxury. For those of us with a soft tissue injury, however, they are a critical weapon to have on the road to recovery. You see, when your tissues are injured your muscles tighten up and spasm. In later stages of tendonitis, this is usually what perpetuates the cycle of pain. A good massage therapist will be able to work on those tight muscles and loosen them over time. This allows your muscles to relax and breaks the cycle.

    Just be sure to go to a reputable massage therapist. Avoid anyone who claims to do crystal healing and opt instead for therapists who do deep tissue massage. A word of forewarning, though: you will hurt the day after a massage...but it's a good kind of pain. 
Bare in mind that I am not a doctor, but rather a fellow sufferer. My suggestions are not a replacement for proper medical advice, simply a litany of things that I have found to be useful.

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