Proper Treatment of Acute Sports Injuries

Acute traumatic injuries such as ankle sprains are painful and can impact our ability to accomplish daily tasks for weeks and months. When improperly treated, they can eventually lead to other painful conditions or a limitation in range of motion. Biomedicine treats these sorts of injuries the same way it has for decades: using rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) in order to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation. While briefly resting and elevating the injury makes sense when it comes to treating an acute injury, icing and compression of the injured tissues have some real drawbacks according to Chinese medical theory. Let’s take a look at the acute inflammatory process to see why that is so.

The inflammatory process is the mechanism our bodies have evolved in order to repair and replace damaged tissues. When we injure ourselves there is an increase in the flow of blood to the site of injury. This additional blood brings in chemicals that mediate inflammation, as well as fresh cellular supplies to the damaged tissue to aid in repair, resulting in swelling of the affected area. Using ice and compression inhibits this process, which can adversely prolong inflammation, resulting in chronic pain or weakness of an injured area. This is one way a simple ankle sprain can persist through years or even decades as a “bad ankle.”

Even Dr. Gabe Mirkin, the doctor who coined the acronym RICE in his 1978 book on sports medicine, has come to the conclusion that icing hinders proper healing.

So what are we to do when facing a sports injury? Nothing? Of course not! Chinese physicians and martial arts experts have come up with some amazingly effective ways for dealing with sports injuries, including certain acupuncture and massage techniques and topical herbal therapies that excel at reducing pain and swelling while increasing circulation so that the acute inflammatory response can work for us, heal our injury and not linger to cause chronic problems later on in life. 

One such topical therapy is called San Huang San (三黄散 – “Three Yellow Powder”), which contains three ingredients that are yellow in color. These powerful herbs (Chinese rhubarb root, Phellodendron & Scutellaria) are amazingly efficient as a substitute for icing a new sports injury. We sell it at the clinic for this purpose. It’s called “Not Ice,” for obvious reasons. Because, as Chinese sports medicine authority Tom Bisio says, “Ice is for dead people.” (For more on how Chinese medicine treats trauma, check out this great podcast episode.

So the next time you injure yourself (and let’s hope you don’t!), stop by All and One Acupuncture in NE Portland for an acupuncture session and some “Not Ice”. See how much faster you can be back out there doing what you love!

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