Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains why ginger is her herb of choice for tendons and ligaments.
So if you do find yourself suffering from strains, sprains or tendonitis, what else can you do to help speed your recovery?
Last week I spoke about speeding up recovery after exercise, focusing on joint health and what nutrients can be used to support recovery. Given that many of us are likely to be out and about more now that the world has begun to open up, I’m probably not the only one who has found myself overdoing it.
Pain after physical exertion isn’t always a bad thing. Muscles get stronger by breaking down and repairing themselves, so it can be normal for them to ache and feel tender if we have over exerted.
Joint, tendon and ligament damage are a different matter, because these take much more time to heal and can cause us significant pain for weeks before healing.
Tendons and ligaments hold our joints together and keep our muscles attached to our skeleton. Injuries to these structures are usually called sprains or strains, the classic example being when a person rolls over on their ankle bad enough to cause injury and swelling.
Tendons and ligaments are made up of fibrous cords that only receive a limited supply of blood. This poor blood supply means that if you find yourself with an injury to these tissues, the injury can take a long time to heal. Blood vessels act as roadways for nutrients to travel along and for broken down tissue to be disposed of. Much like a construction site, if there is not an easy access for transport in and out, maintenance and repairs will take much longer.
Pain and inflammation of a tendon can also be a result of tendonitis. This happens after repeated overworking of a tendon, especially if you haven’t spent time properly warming up before starting to use it.
It can occur in the shoulder, the elbow (think tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow), knee and ankle. We become more prone to this as our tendons age, so it is one to watch out for if you like your exercise and want to look after your joint and tendon health.
So if you do find yourself suffering from strains, sprains or tendonitis, what can you do to help speed your recovery?
The most obvious solution is to rest the injured tissue. If the area is already going to take some weeks to heal, don’t increase that healing time by subjecting it to further damage! Your doctor or physio may be able to offer you some bindings or support to prevent you from accidentally over using the affected joint out of habit.
In addition to resting the joint, using ice packs against the area can help to reduce swelling and improve blood flow to the area. I always hate doing this as I dislike being cold, but using ice wrapped in a towel or the classic bag of frozen peas for 20 mins at a time, several times a day can help shorten recovery time.
From a herbal perspective, ginger is my herb of choice for tendons and ligaments. Ginger works on two levels. As a circulatory stimulant, it has the potential to improve blood flow to the damaged area, bringing more biological construction workers to the tissue that has been damaged.
One of the ways we thing ginger does this is by thinning the blood slightly, so it is not suitable for people on anticoagulant medication.
Luckily, the warming effect that ginger has on food has the same effect on our skin, so gentle massage with topical ginger treatments can be a safe option for those unable to take it by mouth. This warming action helps to stimulate circulation, so this practice, alternated with ice treatment through the day is a great adjunctive to conventional treatment.
Ginger also exhibits anti inflammatory properties. It is the inflammation that causes the discomfort in tendonitis and ginger can gently reduce this while also acting to promote the healing process.
If your priority is to just ease the pain so you can keep going with your day to day activities, using ginger daily for herbal pain relief is my recommendation for making those activities much more comfortable.
l For more information on this or to make an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.