Thursday, April 10, 2014

Did you know that in Chinese medicine it is not recommended to ice your injuries?
Ice is an unquestioned standard treatment for injuries, but there are actually some significant problems with its use. While it is true that ice does reliably reduce inflammation, the way it does so actually interferes with complete recovery and leaves one susceptible to further injury. It is very common for there to still be puffiness around a joint as much as 6 months to a year (or even years!) after it was injured, and for the patient to report that normal use was never fully recovered. According to Chinese medicine, icing injuries can also even set the stage down the road for degenerative conditions such as arthritis.

How does icing cause these problems? 


As described in A Tooth from the Tiger's Mouth, a book about the Chinese medicine approach to treating sports injuries, an injury disrupts the normal flow of blood and fluids the way a dam obstructs the flow of water through a stream. This results in a swollen area of stagnant fluids above the obstruction, which interferes with the normal movement of energy through the tissues causing them to heat up and turn red -- inflammation and pain. Icing cools tissues and causes tiny blood vessels to contract, reducing the flow of blood and fluids into the injured area, reducing swelling.  This is like shrinking a stream to reduce the size of a pond behind a dam.   

The problem with this approach is that it does not get rid of the dam itself, the obstruction caused by the injury. The obstruction remains and  gradually thickens, interfering with full healing and normal function. Eventually, this can cause the affected tissues to start slowly breaking down and, in some people, lead to arthritis.

Treating injuries with Chinese medicine Chinese medicine approach is to break up the obstruction and the swelling will naturally drain, reducing pain. This keeps the circulation of blood and fluids normal, allowing for full healing and restoration of normal function. Acupuncture, acupressure and herbs are all used in Chinese medicine to break up obstructions caused by injury. This can be started immediately after the injury and it is never too late to address an injury that is still causing problems. Treating recent injuries is relatively simple and much can be done with some basic home remedies. You may want to keep some of these remedies around should you need one:
  • Arnica creme is a homeopathic remedy that breaks up obstructions caused by injury and is the premier homeopathic remedy for pain, swelling, bruising and inflammation that accompany injury. Do not use arnica creme over broken skin. Traumeel ointment is a homeopathic formula containing arnica that can be used instead. Arnica creme and Traumeel can be purchased at any health food store, such as Whole Foods.
  • Rhus Tox, another homeopathic remedy, is appropriate when there is a sprain or strain. 3-4 pellets of the 6X or 6C potency can be taken as often as every hour or two the day of the injury and 3-4 times a day after that. Rhus Tox can be taken the same time as arnica if needed. Rhus Tox can be purchased at any health food store, such as Whole Foods.
  • Epsom salts soak is a time honored remedy for soreness, swelling and inflammation. Follow the directions on the box for making a soak and soak the injured part at least once a day the first 3 days of the injury and once a day after that. Epsom salts can be purchased at any grocery store.
  • San Huang Gao is a Chinese herbal poultice that can be ordered from Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy (click on link) and is the premier herbal formula for treating fresh injuries. It is a paste that is spread over the injured site and covered with a medical pad, gauze or  a paper towel and wrapped (not tightly) with an ace bandage to hold in place. San Huang Gao can be left in place for as long as 12 hours before being renewed. San Huang Gao is generally discontinued after 3 days.
  • Yunnan Baiyao Plaster is an excellent all-around Chinese herbal plaster, similar in action to San Huang Gao, but not as strong, that is more convenient to use. Simply gently warm against your body until softer, peel off the cellophane and apply over the affected area. You can leave a plaster on for up to 12 hours at a time. Yunnan Baiyao  Plaster is particularly effective when there is a lot of bruising with the injury. Available at Kamwo (click link).
  • Wu Yang Plaster is a Chinese herbal plaster that is good for sprains. San Huang Gao is more effective, but Yunnan Baiyao is more convenient, especially for use on the back, where applying a paste and securing a covering is more difficult. Many people who sprain their backs easily keep a supply of Wu Yang plaster around. Use the same way as Yunnan Baiyao plaster. Available at Kamwo (click link).
Acupuncture and/or acupressure can also substantially reduce the swelling and pain of a recent injury. A skilled acupuncturist who is experienced in treating injuries can make a big difference, especially with a particularly bad injury.
You may need to seek the services of a acupuncturist experienced in treating injuries to help a particularly bad injury finish healing. Treating older injuries can be a bit complex, so it is recommended that you find an acupuncturist experienced in treating old injuries to sort out what needs to be done to fully resolve the old injury. You're welcome to drop me a line if you have a question about treatment.

Using these strategies can help you have a much quicker and more complete recovery from an injury such as a sprain, strain or a bad bruise.  So, if someone tells you that you should ice your recent injury, follow Nancy Reagan and just say "No!"

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