Trauma & Sports Injuries
Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation have been the standard for treating athletic injuries in Western medicine since 1978 when Dr. Gabe Mirkin coined the term RICE. But Chinese medicine has never accepted this treatment protocol as productive. As a matter of fact, it is considered a mistreatment of traumatic injuries according to TCM that can lead to long-term pain.
Ice constricts the flow of blood and lymph fluid and slows down swelling; the thinking behind the RICE treatment was that it would lessen tissue damage. However, a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the practice of icing delayed the recovery of muscle damage and should not be the first choice of treatment for traumatic and sports injuries.
Furthermore, a study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine in June, 2013, showed research saying icing an injury relieved swelling but it did not speed up recovery from muscle damage. As it turns out, treatments that reduct inflammation delay healing, and this is true for anti-inflammatory pain relievers like ibuprofen as well. Now even Dr. Mirkin is questioning the treatment strategy that he helped to develop.
How TCM Successfully Addresses Traumatic and Sports Injuries
The history of treating injuries with acupuncture and herbal therapy is centuries old and time-tested by martial artists and Chinese warriors. The theories and practices are practical and quite easy to comprehend. Please dial 911 in the case of a serious traumatic injury as an emergency room is the most appropriate place to receive treatment. Self-care should be secondary, or used if it is the only option.
1st Pain is due to the stagnation of Qi and Blood
2nd Remove stagnation and the swelling decreases
3rd The initial trauma and subsequent injury result in Heat and Toxins that must be cleared
Herbal Ice-Immediately after Injury-Day 1-2
Cold Chinese herbs are blended in a formula containing herbs that stimulate Blood flow so that lymphatic fluids are not constricted and impeded from assisting with the healing process.
Astringing herbs and pressure can help to stop bleeding prior to utilizing herb liniments that will “quicken the Blood”.
Herbs are used to remove stasis, swelling, and toxic heat. Herbal soaks and hot packs would not be appropriate at this time. This would certainly apply to sprains, strains, muscle pulls, and tendinitis.
Now warming essential oils, herbs, and wet heat can be used to nourish the tendons and make sure that tissue adhesions that will result in stiffness do not develop. If appropriate, Gentle movement can help to speed healing at this stage.
If the injury was not addressed correctly in stages 1 and 2, Phlegm may develop making prolonged pain a probability. The strategies above must continue to be employed while Dampness is purged from the tissue. If Phlegm develops, expect recovery times in the months rather than weeks. If the injury has been present for years, you may be dependent on herbal therapies indefinitely for decreased pain and increased mobility.
- The Spleen energetic system governs over the muscles and flesh and Spleen tonic herbs can help in recoveries where muscle weakness and skin abrasions are issues.
- The Liver energetic system governs over tendons and should be supported in cases of sprains, tears, and any type of joint pain.
- The Kidney energetic system is indicated with any type of back or knee injury; the fact that these areas were susceptible to injury may point to a long-standing deficiency.
Because a key strategy in treating pain is breaking up Blood Stagnation, one must be concerned that Blood Deficiency is not a factor. In TCM it is said that you cannot move Blood if there is not sufficient Blood; imagine trying to clean out your gutters with a trickle of water. Because the elderly are often Blood Deficient it can take longer for them to heal. If there are indications of Blood Deficiency, or if there was a great deal of blood loss due to this trauma, use herbs to tonify the Blood.
Contraindications: Trauma herbs that move blood would not be appropriate for pregnant or nursing women, for those who are on blood thinning medications, or have bleeding disorders.