Tendons are tissues the connect muscle to bone. The fibrous tissue of tendons are not very well vascularized, meaning they have poor blood flow. Blood delivers nutrients to the tissue but waste products don’t get removed as efficiently as in more vascularized tissues such as muscles. Poor blood flow and lack of efficient waste removal can lead to impaired healing when tendons are injured.
The strategies of conventional medicine (resting the injured joint or getting steroid injections into the injured tendon) will only lead to longer term problems and pain even if they provide short-term relief. Immobilizing the joint in question will exacerbate the waste removal problems and lead to weakening of the surrounding muscles and connective tissue.
Here are five ways to boost tendon strength and health.
1. Take Gotu Kola
I was introduced to the benefits of gotu kola for tendon health by my mentor Robert Crayhon. Giving gotu kola to clients who have had tendon repairs speeds the healing process because it improves blood flow. I have heard many stories of amazed looks from the surgeon on how fast my clients have recovered after taking gotu kola.
Gotu kola can enhance the strength of connective tissues, thereby helping prevent injuries from strength training and sport activity. Research studies have shown that gotu kola supplementation can increase type 1 collagen production, improve myofibroblast production, and decrease inflammation.
2. Train For Synergy
One of my favorite authors in strength training is Dr. Ken Leistner who highlighted the importance of training for synergy so that muscle groups can “work together” in a balanced fashion. In an article thirty years ago, he pointed out that most elbow flexor tendonitis can be alleviated by strengthening both forearm extensors and flexors. I tried it, and it worked very well. By logical extension, I looked into training the supinators and pronators of the forearm. It solved the tendonitis problem even quicker.
3. Make Sure Structural Balance Is In Effect
Make sure the body is structurally balanced so that the two sides of the body and the agonist/antagonist muscle pairs are balanced optimally. For example, if you are one of those dweebs that trains only what they can see in the mirror, you are in trouble because the posterior muscles will be weak. If you only train the biceps and not the triceps, you disrupt the normal mechanics of the elbow joint.
4. Get Proper Soft Tissue Work
Excessive muscle tension increases the pull on tendons in a chronic manner. I have found that a combination of A.R.T. (Active Release Technique) and deep slow body work like Rolfing works best.
5. Get Dry Needling And Acupuncture
In my experience, a skilled practitioner at dry needling will optimize muscle function and tendon strength in record time. When followed by the soft tissue work described in point four, the results are nothing short of amazing.
Acupuncture use for tendon healing is well supported by research because it increases the flow of oxygen saturated blood to the injured area. There is even evidence that if the lower leg is immobilized in a cast due to Achilles tendon injury, performing acupuncture on the opposite non-injured leg will improve blood flow to the injured leg and speed recovery. This cross-healing effect is not completely understood but is certainly rooted in central nervous system function. The effect also reinforces the value of synergy and structural balance for optimal strength and healing.
Widgerow, A., Chait, L, et al. New Innovations in Scar Management. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. 2000. 24(3), 227-234.
Kubo, K., Yajima, H., et al. Changes in Blood Circulation of the Contraleteral Achilles Tendon During and After Acupuncture and Heating. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 2011. 32(10), 807-813.