From the Huang Di Nei Jing - The Yellow Emeror's Inner Classic
Bu tong ze tong, tong ze bu tong
If there is inhibited flow, there is pain; if there is uninhibited flow, there is no pain
I can’t tell you how often I find my patients telling me that they do, in fact, have pain, but assume it’s just a normal part of life - whether due to menstrual cramps, the changes in your body of pregnancy, chronic injury or aging. Turns out, there’s absolutely no reason for you to accept pain as part of your life. Pain is our body telling us that there is some kind of impaired movement, and the body is asking for you to do something about it. Pain is a huge topic and we will come back again and again in this blog, but for today we’ll continue to look at injuries and pain.
Most people are happy to get back to their daily life unimpeded after an injury whether it is as minor as a sprained ankle or as major as knee replacement surgery. This type of care is considered very incomplete - you can see this in the results of having that sprained ankle “never feel the same” or having it repetitively re-sprained. In Chinese Medicine we also look at the bigger picture and often see down the line that those meridians that are affected by incomplete healing can then cause other chronic problems in the body. Thorough injury care to be of the utmost importance for proper longevity.
Chinese Medicine and Use of Ice
In general, those of us in the Chinese Medicine field are not a fan of using ice, for the same reasons that RICE is no longer the recommended for acute injuries. The doctor who coined the term RICE for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, is now speaking out against it - saying that both ice and compression delay healing rather than help (Mirkin, 2015).
The reason is simple: the best healing factors in the body are brought by circulation. Cold constricts blood vessels, and compression restricts the entire area - meaning those very important healing factors are being kept out, and injured tissue cells are not allowed to move out.
So, why are so many of your medical professionals like chiropractors still recommending ice? One reason is that allopathic (modern) medicine still hasn’t come up with a good solution to helping swelling and congested fluids properly move out of an area - things like Arnica or DDJ “hit and fall wine” (from my last blog post), haven’t yet become main stream. It’s also because RICE helps reduce pain and makes the injury look better as the swelling quickly goes down, which makes professionals hesitant to drop such a seemingly effective procedure. Many have also just accepted that a sprained ankle will “never be the same” and become prone to re-injury, something that is certainly not true when it is treated correctly by Chinese Medicine or other modalities. I can attest to this myself: I can’t even remember which of my ankles I had sprained (twice!) since getting proper treatment a few years ago.
Getting proper circulation
So, if you’re not using ice, how do you manage swelling and get proper circulation? As alluded to above, Dit Da Jow herbal liniment, Arnica products, and gentle movement are a way to reduce swelling and break up bruising in the soft tissue, getting more circulation and healing factors into the injury, fast. Gentle movement (rather than rest) is going to assist the circulation coming in to the area and further move along healing. It will also help properly align tendons and ligaments to prevent long lasting stiffness. Acupuncture is also something strongly recommended in the days immediately following an injury to make sure flow is not impeded and prevent formation of scar tissue. Other therapies such as Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, or massage may also be recommended, depending on the type of injury. For at home follow up care in the following days and weeks after the injury here are many other specialized herbal compresses for various injuries like broken bones or torn ligaments - these are prescribed specific to each injury, and so are best assessed and prescribed by a Chinese herbalist.
Curious to learn more on your own and begin to treat and heal your own injuries? I recommend reading Tom Bisio’s A Tooth From The Tiger’s Mouth. In this Chinese Medicine inspired guide to sports injuries, Tom has included herbal recipes and practices specific to many types of injuries.
After the immediate injury - Full recovery
Often with injuries, our body compensates to both “stabilize” the injured area as well as moving differently to avoid further damage to the injury. This is two part compensation: the first is lines of tension up from the injury (even a minor strained ankle), all the way up the lower leg, and often times all the way up to the hip. This is the stabilization - your body creating and holding tension to protect the body from moving in a way to further hurt the injury. The compensation is often found on the other side of the body as you learn to rely more on the uninjured limbs. As far as I know, there is not a reliable natural mechanism to tell the body when it can release these patterns; you have to go in and get manual treatment to release the stabilization and undo the compensation.
For myself, I seek out acupuncture with Tui-na, a type of vigorous and typically uncomfortable massage. The acupuncture helps the body to begin to relax and reset energy pathways, while the tui-na gets into and breaks up the stuck patterns after they are no longer needed. As I mentioned earlier, PT or Chiropractic may also be suitable therapies for this stage in healing.
Don't settle for allowing your body to collect more and more minor injuries and pain. These add up over time, and can even affect your internal health - you can look to the Chinese Meridian system of the body. Often the channels affected by long term injury will cause associated chronic problems. For example, an injury on the Stomach channel, may in fact contribute to chronic heartburn a few years down the line. Allow your body to feel truly vibrant, and you will lead a more fulfilled life.