Tendonitis – Wrist Pain and Dysfunction

Yesterday I took a train from Ft Myers to NY – what a journey! I enjoyed it because I was coming up to NY for my granddaughter’s graduation (wouldn’t miss it if I had to WALK to get here!!) and I had a ton of work to do – what a perfect place to work…no interruptions, no internet to entice me away from what I’m doing, and no refrigerator to call me from the kitchen .

It was an overnight train, so the line for coffee in the morning seemed like a mile long. While standing on this very long line, I met a woman named Kim who was standing in front of me. We got into the normal “what do you do” conversations and she told me that she’s a artist, but not the type we’re accustomed to…Kim paints unusual things like giant sunflowers on the side of a building, and turns a flat blah sidewalk into looking like a beautiful cobblestone path.

She was showing me the scar from a surgery she had in her wrist for tendonitis, and then explained that she ended up getting a staph infection that went up her arm and caused her to have a second surgery. All of the scar tissue has caused her to be unable to move her left wrist in any direction – causing her grief when she is working. She’s also nervous that her right arm/wrist may go through the same problem as she’s already experiencing pain in her right arm. Sometimes the pain would be so bad that she needed to take time off work, which never helps anyone’s budget.

She also had surgery on her neck to remove several disks, and because of scar tissue she wasn’t able to look up – a very important movement for an artist working on huge flowers on walls.

Well, it was a very long line so we had plenty of time to talk, and for me to poke around at the muscles. The neck surgery was definitely necessary, but the muscles in the front of her neck were so tight that they were the problem with looking up. It took a few minutes of me teaching Kim some techniques and she had a very noticeable improvement…she was thrilled.

We didn’t get into talking about tendonitis (the line started to move) so I want to talk about it here on the blog. We did have a bit of time though for me to work on a few of her arm muscles, and when we were finished she had a definite improvement in her wrist movement. All-in-all it was a good meeting for Kim because now she knows that there is room for improvement, and it was a good meeting for me because I love her work and someday I’m going to have giant sunflowers in my garden 🙂

“Tendonitis” is often diagnosed by doctors when a person has joint pain, but the solution is too often to either take medications or have surgery. In truth, the word “tendonitis” actually means “an inflammation at the point where the tendon merges with the bone.” So it is a description, but it doesn’t say anything about WHY there is an inflammation at that point. That’s where muscles come in to the discussion.

The analogy I always use is…pull your hair at the end and your scalp will hurt – but you don’t need to take drugs for the pain, you don’t need to massage your scalp, and you don’t need brain surgery…you just need to let go of your hair! If you change that analogy and pretend your hand is the muscle, your hair is the tendon, and your scalp is the joint (insertion of the tendon), you can understand it better. In fact, you can watch a video of me explaining that analogy, sometimes a picture/video is worth 1000 words. It’s the video on the Home Page, and if you want to see others, take a look at the link on the top of the page.

Back to “tendonitis.” When the muscle is shortened by spasms (also called “knots,” and “trigger points”) it is pulling hard on the tendon. People sometimes think that the tendon stretches, but it doesn’t. Tendons don’t stretch – if they did then we couldn’t move at all because the muscle would pull on the tendon, the tendon would stretch, and the joint would stay still.

Let’s go back to pulling your hair again. If you pull your hair on the right side, your right scalp will hurt, and you can’t turn your head toward the left.

Likewise, as the muscle is pulling on the tendon it causes the point where the tendon merges with the bone to have tension placed on it. The muscle is pulling one way, but you then try to move in the opposite direction and there is a tug-of-war going on, and it hurts. But you don’t need to do anything to the tendon, you just need to release the tightness in the muscle fibers and the muscle will stop pulling on the tendon.

This happens all over the body: the muscle pulls on the tendon, the tendon pulls on the bone (usually at a joint), and the joint moves. I always tell people, if you can’t make a movement, look at what muscle is supposed to be stretching in order to make the movement and you’ll know which muscle to self-treat.

In the case of looking up at the ceiling, the muscles in the front of your neck need to stretch. If they are tight you can’t lean back and look at the ceiling. In the case of your wrist, if your arm is straight and you can’t bend your wrist to bring your hand down toward the floor, the muscles on the top of your forearm are tight. If your arm is straight and you can’t bend your wrist to point your fingers toward the ceiling, the muscles on the underside of your forearm are tight. You are not going to move until the tight muscles are released.

The good news is, that’s easy enough to fix if you just know where to go and how to self-treat the muscle. If you have my book, Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living, you can see how to find the trigger point, and treat it quickly.

If you want to stretch, now is the perfect time because you have released the tight muscles. It’s not wise to stretch muscles that are tied up in knots. TriggerPoint Yoga can give you great information about releasing the knots and stretching. The perfect combination!

If you are ever told you have tendonitis, take a breath, say “thank you” and then move ahead to release the tension in the muscle that attaches to that tendon. You can do it!

Wishing you well,


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