9 Proven Ways to Treat Foot Tendonitis

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Foot tendonitis is a very common cause of foot pain. Tendonitis occurs when there is inflammation of the tendons, which is usually caused by overuse or injury.  A tendon is a strong, cord-like band of fibrous tissue which attaches your muscles to your bones.

Tendonitis can affect any of the tendons in the foot and ankle. Tendonitis takes time to recover from, with two to three months being a common time frame, although it can take much longer.

What Causes Tendonitis?

When a tendon is made to work too hard or for too long, or over-stretched, the excessive strain damages and causes minor tears in the tendon. This injury is accompanied by inflammation and pain. Twisting the foot, walking on slopes or falling awkwardly can also cause tendon damage. Foot tendonitis is a common injury and because it’s difficult to adequately rest the injured foot, healing can take a long time.

Tendonitis is common in weekend warriors. People who undertake strenuous tasks around the house, or go for a ten mile hike, when their bodies aren’t used to the activities. Tendonitis is more common in the over 40’s as tendons become less resilient with age and are more likely to tear.

When an injury occurs anywhere in your body, your body responds by increasing the number of red blood cells available to transport extra oxygen and healing nutrients to the site of the injury, and white blood cells to tackle any infection.

This is the cause of inflammation and with most minor injuries the inflammation settles down within a few days as the injury is repaired. The other function of inflammation is to cause pain so that you stop moving the injured limb. The problem with tendonitis is that the injury keeps on happening. Once a small injury occurs – unless the foot is rested immediately – repeated movement creates more micro injuries and prevents the repair process from completing, so the inflammation just keeps going as your body frantically tries to get enough repair products to the injured tendon.  

Running, walking, long periods of standing, obesity, bone spurs, high arches, flat feet, unsupportive shoes and high heels, all put strain on the feet and increase the chance of injury. Our feet take a heck of a pounding, carrying our weight and absorbing shocks with every step, yet all too often we favor style over support and pay the price with painful injured feet, that may never completely recover, especially in old age.

The most common symptom of tendonitis is pain. This is usually a sharp pain focused on the area of the affected tendon. As the condition worsens the pain spreads. Pain is usually worse first thing in the morning when you take your first few steps of the day, often causing you to limp and try to avoid putting weight on the injured foot. The pain usually eases off after that, but the longer you spend on your feet the more likely the pain will intensify again. And it’s often unbearable by the end of the day.

With foot tendonitis swelling isn’t immediate, noticeable inflammation sets in several hours after the injury and after a few weeks you may notice that a tender lump has formed over the tendon. The foot often becomes stiff and pain-free movement is limited.

You should see your doctor if you develop foot pain that doesn’t go away within a week. But there are remedies that you can employ at home to lessen the pain and reduce inflammation, to support faster healing. When using these remedies you should also aim to rest the affected foot as much as you can. Rest is the best remedy.

1. Ice Pack

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Using an ice pack on the injured foot will help to reduce the inflammation and pain associated with foot tendonitis. If you don’t have any ice, use a bag of frozen peas or corn.

  1. Put crushed ice in a ziplock bag, then wrap the bag in a thin towel.
  2. Place the ice pack on the inflamed area for about 15 minutes.
  3. Repeat this process a few times each day.

A cold compress is also beneficial and is more tolerable than an ice pack, meaning that you can use it for longer.

Place a few ice cubes in a bowl of cold water. Add some essential oils if you like. Essential oils will make this cold compress more effective, but the cold will provide relief all by itself. Peppermint and German Chamomile are good oils to add. Use 2 drops of each. Place a square of muslin or a strip of bandage in the water, wring out then apply to the painful area. Once the cool feeling wears off, dunk the muslin in the ice water again and repeat. One way to get a cold compress really cold is to pop it in the freezer for 5 minutes. It won’t be super cold like an ice pack but it will provide extra relief.

2. Essential Oil Blend For Massage

Massaging your foot with oil will stimulate blood flow and help to reduce the pain and inflammation caused by foot tendonitis. Adding an essential oil blend will provide further benefits. Essential oils have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. They stimulate circulation enabling more rapid healing to take place. The fragrances are known to stimulate the release of feel-good endorphins which are a potent pain-reliever all by themselves.

The essential oils that you choose will need to be diluted in a carrier oil and you can use pretty much any oil that you have on hand. Olive oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed, sweet almond, coconut, jojoba, avocado. All are fine. Heat two tablespoons of oil, by placing it into a small bowl and  setting that bowl in some warm water. Then add the essential oils.

You can mix and match oils from the following list, which have all been selected for their soothing anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Add 20 drops total to the oil. Then gently massage into the affected area for 15 – 20 minutes. Massage your oil blend into your foot daily, or have someone else do it for you, which is always nice! After the oils have been massaged in, follow up with a warm compress.

You might like to try 4 drops of Lavender, 4 drops of Sweet Marjoram, 3 drops of Frankincense, 3 drops of Rosemary, 2 drops of German Chamomile, 2 drops of peppermint and 2 drops of Sandalwood essential oils

Another way to use essential oils is to add them to a foot bath. Dissolve 2 heaped tablespoons of sea or mountain salt in warm water. Add 20 drops of essential oil blend.

  • German Chamomile – Known for its effective anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
  • Sweet Marjoram – Has sedative properties. Relieve pain and stiffness.
  • Lavender – This is probably the most well known essential oil for pain relief and relaxation. It is a mild sedative which is good for aiding sleep when experiencing pain and discomfort. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to reduce swelling.
  • Eucalyptus – Has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s good for pain and stiffness.
  • Peppermint – Effective pain blocker, reduces inflammation and brings a cooling sensation to the skin. Peppermint also helps other essential oils to sink deeper into the skin.
  • Rosemary – Has analgesic and stimulatory properties. Relieves pain and increases circulation.
  • Thyme – Antispasmodic, good for joint and muscle pain.
  • Clary Sage – Helps to ease muscle tension and spasms. Has calming and soothing properties. Is anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory.
  • Sandalwood – Relieves muscle spasms. One of sandalwood’s most beneficial uses is to sedate the nervous system, so it helps to reduce pain.
  • Juniper – Antispasmodic. Relieves pain, joint and muscle aches, and spasms.
  • Ginger – Improves circulation, relieves pain, is helpful to treat sprains and strains.
  • Frankincense – Anti-inflammatory and a mild sedative. It’s also used to alleviate stress and relieve pain.
  • Yarrow – A powerful analgesic pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory.
  • Wintergreen – A less well-known oil, and should only be used in small doses. It’s very effective in treating painful conditions. Wintergreen contains a very high percentage of methyl salicylate and has similar pain-relieving properties to aspirin (of which it is the main component).
  • Vetiver – Used since ancient times in Ayurvedic medicine, it brings relief to general aches and pains.
  • Helichrysum (St John’s Wort) – This  oil is quite expensive and valued for its pain-relieving properties. It is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and analgesic.

3. Epsom Salts

Another simple but effective way to treat foot tendonitis is to immerse your foot in warm water mixed with Epsom salts. The heat of the warm water will have a stimulating effect and improve circulation while easing pain, and the magnesium sulfate in the Epsom salts will aid in healing the muscles and tendons.

  • Mix half cup of Epsom salts or magnesium flakes in a large bowl filled with warm water and stir until dissolved. Soak your foot for up to one hour. Repeat this remedy daily.
  • Another option is to make a warm Epsom salt compress. Mix two tablespoons of Epsom salts in one cup of warm water. Wet a washcloth with this solution, wring it out and place it on your foot for 15 to 20 minutes. Epsom salt can be drying, so use a moisturizing oil or cream to keep your skin in good condition.

4. Comfrey Salve

In clinical trials comfrey has been shown to reduce pain and swelling, making it very helpful for painful, swollen tendons.

To make a salve, you’ll need

  • 2 cups olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil or jojoba oil
  • 1/4 cup beeswax pastilles or grated beeswax
  • 1 teaspoon echinacea root (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons dried comfrey leaf
  • 2 tablespoons dried plantain leaf
  • 1 tablespoons dried calendula flowers (optional) or 5 drops calendula essential oil
  • 1 tablespoons dried yarrow flowers (optional) or 5 drops yarrow essential oil
  • 1 tablespoons dried rosemary leaf (optional) or 5 drops rosemary essential oil

Make a herbal infusion with the oil and herbs. If using essential oils in place of the final three ingredients, don’t add them yet.

You can make an infusion the slow way or the fast way. Either way is good, the only difference is the time. The slow way is easy, add the herbs and the oil to a jar, close the lid and leave to mellow for three to four weeks. Shake the jar daily.

The fast way takes three hours and involves heating the oil and herbs in a double boiler, over a low heat.

You’ll know when the infusion is finished because the oil will be a lovely deep green.

Next strain the oil and squeeze the herbs to get the last drops of goodness out. Heat the strained oil and the beeswax in a double boiler, stirring until the beeswax has melted. At this point add the essential oils (if using) and stir in.

Transfer to a clean container and leave to cool and set. The beeswax will thicken the oil as it cools and create a firm but spreadable consistency.

Smooth onto the painful area twice a day.

5. Vinegar Wraps

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Alternating hot and cold vinegar wraps reduces the pain of foot tendonitis and decrease swelling. The heat treatment reduces pain and eases sore muscles while the cold treatment reduces inflammation. Vinegar is used instead of water because vinegar is a strong anti-inflammatory agent.

  1. Mix equal amounts of white vinegar and warm water in a large pan.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix equal parts vinegar and cold water.
  3. Soak a small towel in the hot mixture, then wring it out and place it around your foot for three minutes.
  4. Take the towel that is soaking in the cold water and follow the same procedure, but only leave it on for 30 seconds this time.
  5. Repeat the sequence three times.

You can repeat this treatment as many times a day as you have time for. Use the hottest water you can tolerate (but never so hot as to burn) and use ice water, if you can stand that.

Use a moisturizing oil like olive oil afterwards, and add a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil.

6. Cayenne Pepper And Ginger Spice

Cayenne pepper is a rich source of the natural and potent pain reliever known as capsaicin. Capsaicin releases a chemical called substance P which decreases pain by limiting the nerve endings’ ability to send pain signals to the brain. The warming effect of cayenne pepper is also very soothing. Ginger is a good antioxidant and provides warmth. Both stimulate circulation and aid healing.

  1. Mix two tablespoons of cayenne pepper and two tablespoons of ginger powder in half a cup of warm olive oil (or other oil).
  2. Apply this mixture to the affected area and leave for 15 to 20 minutes before washing it off.
  3. Apply several times a day until the condition improves.

7. Wear A Splint, Elastic Bandage or Foot Brace

Injured feet need extra support. In addition to using the other remedies suggested in this article, you should definitely provide some extra support for your foot. Bandages, splints, and foot braces also help to prevent you from moving your foot around too much and aggravating the tendonitis.

An elastic bandage is the most comfortable to wear, especially for sleeping in. But you need to buy the right size so that the bandage isn’t too tight. If it’s too tight, you will impede circulation.

8. Cooling Aloe Vera Gel

This gel will bring pain relief and reduce inflammation. Aloe vera has 2 pain relieving mechanisms. It’s analgesic, which means it reduces pain and it’s anti-inflammatory, meaning it reduces swelling, which is its secondary pain-relieving action. Where some other treatments work by reducing inflammation, aloe is a beneficial remedy to use as soon as the injury occurs before any inflammation has developed.

Aloe Vera Gel is widely available but the best gel is the fresh gel straight from the plant. You can buy Aloe Vera as a houseplant and always have a ready supply of this versatile healing gel to hand. To extract gel from the plant, take a clean sharp knife and cut off a section of leaf. Trim off the skin to reveal a block of transparent gel. Then use a spoon to stir it up and make it ready to use.

To 150ml Aloe Vera gel add

  • 2 teaspoons neem oil
  • 30 drops of lavender essential oil
  • 20 drops of sweet marjoram essential oil
  • 10 drops of clary sage essential oil
  • 5 drops of German chamomile essential oil
  • 5 drops of peppermint essential oil.

Mix thoroughly and apply to your foot regularly. If you cool the gel in the fridge before use, it will be extra soothing.

9. Helpful Supplements To Aid Tendonitis Repair

These supplements help to fight pain, lower inflammation, nourish compromised tissue and give your immune system a boost.

  • Omega-3 fish oils – These anti-inflammatory fats control swelling, assist wound-healing and proper immune system response. Good food sources are wild-caught fish or seafood. Supplements are a good alternative but quality varies and the way that the fish oils are processed and stored has a high impact on quality. Some supplements are worse than useless and can even be harmful if the oil has oxidized.  Make sure you buy a reputable brand.
  • Collagen/collagen protein – Tendons and ligaments are mostly made of collagen, so supplementing with collagen helps to restore your supply when your body is actively repairing an injury.
  • Bromelain Enzyme- This enzyme is found in pineapple and is a good anti-inflammatory. The University Of Maryland advises an intake of 250mg twice a day to assist with tissue repair.
  • MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) – MSM heals tissue at the cellular level.  It’s an anti-inflammatory and helps to relieve pain. It adds permeability to cell membranes, which allows nutrients in to facilitate healing, and wastes out which reduces swelling and speeds up repair.
  • Vitamin C – Reduces inflammation and supports the immune system. Take 500mg twice a day.
  • Calcium and Magnesium -To aid healing of connective tissue. Take 1500mg a day calcium and 750mg a day magnesium.
Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.