Tendon and Ligament injuries are very common and most often associated with a sports injury, accidents, and repetitive tasks. They can be difficult to manage and recover from, but supplements may help speed up healing.
In 2007 I took an antibiotic which would change the direction of my life drastically. It happened just before I was planning on going to medical school to become a doctor and around the time of my birthday. I developed bilateral Achilles tendinitis and many other issues related to ligaments and joints after taking a few doses of the antibiotic.
Actually, there was a lot more going on, but I’ll leave that for a future article. Needless to say, it put an end to my plans and I spent 2 years trying to recover from the reaction I had to the antibiotic. One of the things which persisted the longest was the tendon and ligament issues that I was having.
Within two days of taking the antibiotic, I was unable to walk without pain and feeling my tendons would snap. I was already aware that this was a serious and documented effect of the antibiotic for some people. In hindsight, I did have a bad gut feeling about taking it. More often on that not, I’ve found these feelings to be right.
Compared to tendon damage from antibiotics, tendon injuries from sport and overuse are much more common. But in both cases, it can be a struggle for people to overcome because these type of injuries tend to reoccur if not treated properly.
There were a few mistakes I made when trying to recover from tendinitis, one of them is not doing the proper exercises to remodel and strengthen my tendons and ligaments. Doing nothing leaves them weak and prone to injury again, which can make the recovery process even longer.
Despite the lengthy recovery time, I did find a few supplements which helped me along the way. I used supplements which were based on scientific evidence.
What are the main causes of tendinitis and ligament injuries?
There are many things which can put you at great risk of injury, but there are few common reasons why people develop both of these problems.
- Repetition – People who are performing repetitive actions and movements are at risk for this type of injury.
- Sudden injury – If you’ve had an accident or moved in a way which puts a lot of strain on the tendon or ligament.
- Sports – People who play sports like football, baseball, basketball, swimming and running often develop tendonitis at some point.
- Medications – People who are taking medications like steroid anti-inflammatories, statins, and antibiotics like ciprofloxacin can develop ligament and tendon damage.
Which supplements are good for healing tendons and ligaments faster?
Below are a few supplements which I recommend trying if you are struggling to recover from tendon and ligament injuries. Many of the mechanisms which lead to chronic inflammation and tendon weakness are similar, even if the cause is very different.
Tendonitis and ligament injuries can take weeks to a year or more to recover from, but hopefully, with these supplements, you can cut that amount of time down.
But to be clear on one point again: you have to also manage the pain and do strengthening exercises. Supplements by themselves won’t lead to strong tendons. You have to do the exercises to physically remodel the tendons to become stronger and less prone to injury in the future.
Only perform exercises after the acute injury phase has settled down and there is no intense pain associated with stretches and strength exercises.
#1. Protein supplements
If you’re eating a low protein diet, then this is the time when you may want to increase your protein intake, at least until you’ve fully recovered from the injury.
Protein is the building block for muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and not getting enough of it could result in slow healing times.
Not only that, protein has an IGF-1 stimulating effect, which is required for cell proliferation and differentiation.
Some protein has a bigger effect than others, but whey protein is usually the best for increasing IGF-1 levels. In 2007 I wasn’t vegan (I was a vegetarian) so I was consuming reflex instant whey protein powder. I had about 3 servings per day, and I believe this helped speed up my recovery time.
If you’re a vegan, you can also try drinking more soy milk or take plant-based protein powders. It’s been shown that some plant-based protein powders are able to build muscle and performance just as much as whey protein.
Check out some good protein powders with all the essential amino acids. These will help heal your tendons and ligaments faster.
In this study, researchers showed that an increase in systemic IGF-1 is able to significantly improve healing of collagenous tissue. Therefore would be extremely helpful in reducing the healing time and strengthening damaged ligaments and tendons.
Another benefit of consuming more protein when you’re injured is that it will help you maintain muscle mass that you have, especially if your injury is causing you to become inactive.
Once you’ve fully recovered from your tendon and ligament injuries, you can decrease protein intake back to baseline levels.
Whenever I am faced with a challenge, I always adapt and adjust my diet and supplement regimen accordingly. This is the best way to approach any problems you face to get the best results.
Curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory effects and is able to improve tendon and ligament healing according to research.
Curcumin helps in several ways: it up-regulates genes which are involved in stem cell differentiation and proliferation into tenocytes, and also reducing genes involved in inflammation and cell death.
Curcumin also helps reduce oxidative stress, lipid peroxidation and extensive cross-linking of collagen in tendons.
This study shows that curcumin is able to improve tendon healing by improving the organization of collagen fibers, increasing cellular antioxidant enzymes like superoxide dismutase and decrease MDA levels to improve regeneration of tendon tissues.
Curcumin has the potential to speed up healing via several mechanisms and should definitely be included to help you recover from ligament and tendon injuries. I also took this supplement to help me recover when I had tendon and ligament injuries.
Bromelain is primarily found in pineapples and has potent anti-inflammatory properties and enhances healing of injuries and trauma according to various many studies.
Bromelain is able to be absorbed well after ingested as a supplement. Approximately 40% is absorbed and has a half-life of around 6 hours.
A study published in the journal of medicinal food looked at the effect of fresh pineapple juice and bromelain supplements to see which worked better for healing acute Achilles tendon injury.
Bromelain helps reduce swelling, inflammation and enhances healing.
The study found that the animal who was given 600 GDU of bromelain had improved tenocyte proliferation and recovery compared to the fresh pineapple juice group.
L-arginine is a precursor to the production of nitric oxide in the body. It’s an essential amino acid and is involved in the healing process of tendons and ligaments.
Studies show that the addition of nitric oxide to human tendon cells is able to significantly enhance collagen synthesis and accelerate histomorphological recovery of tendons.
Low level of nitric oxide available to healing tissues may result in elevation of growth factors like TGF-bet and lead to chronic inflammation and development of scarring (fibrosis).
Combining pycnogenol with L-arginine significantly enhances production of NO and also reduces the breakdown of NO in the body.
#5. Omega 3
While it’s healing from injuries does recover some inflammation, excessive and prolonged inflammation can hamper the regeneration of the tissues. Omega 3 has strong anti-inflammatory effects which may help reduce excessive inflammation.
Consuming foods high in omega 3 or ALA will help lower inflammation. If you’re a vegan you can take plant-based omega 3 supplements and if you’re an omnivore, then fish oil would be fine.
However, studies show that omega 3 from algal oil is just as effective at raising the concentration of EPA and DHA as fish oil.
See my article on some vegan alternative to fish oil supplements.
While you increase omega 3 in your diet, try to reduce the amount of omega 6 you consume. This will further help combat inflammation.
Many people swear by glucosamine for improving symptoms of osteoarthritis. But due to its anti-inflammatory effects and its ability to enhance collagen production, it’s also useful for ligament and tendon injuries.
In a study looking at Achilles tendonitis in animals, researchers found that glucosamine was able to significantly improve inflammation markers and also stimulate collagen production in the tendon.
They also noted that rats were given the supplement also had significantly stronger tendons than the placebo group.
Studies are mixed on whether or not glucosamine improves recovery from ligament injuries, one study in athletes who underwent anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction did not see any improvement outcome in rehabilitation.
#7. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is crucial for collagen synthesis and recovery of injuries. Most people can easily get enough vitamin C from fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Cooking destroys most of the vitamin C.
In animal studies, high dose vitamin C supplementation does enhance healing from tendon injuries, but there aren’t many human data. People who are low in vitamin C will benefit the most from supplementing between 500 – 3000 mg.
This study shows that this level of vitamin C supplementation helped improve recovery from surgery, injuries.
Zinc is very important, especially for vegetarians and vegans. It’s important in the entire healing process and a deficiency can hamper the quality of repair.
People who are consuming a high copper diet (mostly plant-based) will benefit from taking a zinc supplement to recover from injuries.
I recommend you either take zinc picolinate or zinc gluconate for best results.
#9. Vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D has been linked with impaired recovery from tendon and ligament injuries.
Vitamin D is an important regular of many genes, including the immune system which is important in the process of recovery by regulating inflammation and immune cells.
In a study looking at recovery from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, low levels of vitamin D was associated with worse outcome with lower strength recovery after surgery.
Take between 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D supplements.
Recovery from soft tissue injuries whether it be muscle, ligament or tendon, can take a long time. You have to be patient and take your time.
Once the injury has taken place, you can immediately start taking supplements to help boost your recovery time, but you have to wait a little bit of the acute phase of the injury to settle down.
Supplements can play an important role in helping reduce the recovery time of ligament and tendon injuries, but it’s hard to say how much benefit they’ll provide there are many other factors involved as well.
I’ll go into the things I did to help recovery from chronic tendinitis in a future article.