Ice is often used as short-term treatment to help injured athletes get back into a game. The cooling may help to decrease pain, but research show that icing actually have a negative effect on the athletic performance: ice interferes with the athlete's strength, speed, endurance and coordination, so ice actually delays healing.
In 1978 Dr Gabe Mirkin a sports medicine doctor coined the acronym RICE which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation for the treatment of athletic injuries. Thanks to him ice and the acronym RICE became the standard treatment for injuries and sore muscles.
But based on the past 40 years, researchers realized that out of this acronym RICE, rest and ice does not work. "Use it or you lose it" meaning, if you don't move, you lose flexibility and your strength. Rest causes muscle atrophy, competitive athletes could experience setbacks and muscle atrophy after as little as two weeks of inactivity.
With ice they realized that healing requires inflammation. When you damage tissue through trauma or develop muscle soreness by exercising you heal by using your immunity, the same biological mechanisms that your body uses to kill germs. Your body needs this inflammation in order to properly heal. When you apply ice the blood vessels near the injury constrict and this shuts off the blood flow that otherwise would bring in the healing cells of inflammation, oxygen and nutrients.
In 2014: Dr. Gabe Mirkin, updated the blog on his website entitled Why Ice Delays Recovery where he explains that actually anything that reduces inflammation also delays healing. So ice, anti-inflammatory pain medicines such as Advil and Tylenol, cortisone shots and immune suppressants that are used to treat arthritis and cancer not only delay recovery and healing but also weaken your tissues. (Do cortisone shots actually make things worse?)
So what should you use instead?
Chinese Medicine’s approach to examining and treating sports and orthopedic injuries is not all that different from Western Medicine. The major difference is: Chinese Medicine doesn't recommend immobilization for injuries - it recommends working through them - and ice is never used.
Not only it wasn’t available thousands of years ago, but in fact, there's a saying --“Ice is for dead people”-- meaning, ice is great for preserving things in a static state. Ice keeps your ice cream frozen in the freezer and it keeps dead bodies from decomposing, but it does not help the damaged tissue repair itself. Ice does reduce the initial swelling, inflammation and pain, but at a cost.
You need three things for an injury to properly heal: movement, blood flow & inflammation.
After you are cleared for not needing emergency medical attention / determined that no bones are broken / the injury is not open and bleeding and that movement will not increase further damage you can start massaging the affected area of pain.
Just rub the tissue around the injured body part. Initially use gentle pressure, but as swelling and pain decreases increase your pressure and go deeper. Massage breaks up accumulations, loosens the tissue and improves blood flow while reduces swelling and pain.
You also want to start to move around as soon as possible. Start with simple range of motion exercises and stretches that do not aggravate the injury. Let pain be your guide. Don’t run the marathon the day after you sprained your ankle, but also don’t be afraid of moving it. See your physical therapist for appropriate exercises.
Stretches and exercises prevent muscle atrophy, restore normal function and help you return to your desired activities quicker.
How does acupuncture help?
Muscles need two things in order to properly work: activation and strength.
Needling motor points of injured muscles will help activating the muscle and through the muscle's motor neuron it help reconnecting it with your brain. Needling around the injury site the needle breaks up accumulations and cause micro trauma. Blood then brings the healing cells of inflammation, nutrients and oxygen and carries away waste products. Other acupoints stimulate circulation, reduce swelling and move energy.
Cupping is a technique that involves placing jars on the skin, suctioning out the air and creating a vacuum. Cupping greatly increases blood circulation, therefore speeds healing. Read more on cupping here
The following herbal poultices, plasters, soaks are cooling (just like ice) but they also help torn muscles and tendons to heal (unlike ice):
- Herbal Ice: use just after the injury when you would normally use ice. When the tissue is swollen, bruised and inflamed. Composed of cooling herbs that reduce inflammation and kill pain while increase local blood flow. It helps circulation and healing. Applying San Huang San will make your recovery much smoother and faster.
- Cooling Reapair: a time proven, fast acting formula for moderate to severe injuries. This liniment contains herbs that provide safe and rapid relief from acute and chronic pain, reduce swelling & inflammation and increase local blood flow, therefore quicken your healing. Used by martial artist all over the world for bruises, contusions, sprains and closed fractures.
- Warming Repair: A powerful, effective, herbal liniment that contains warming herbs to stimulate local circulation and facilitate the healing process quickly & naturally. This formula is best for older (chronic) injuries to bones, muscles and joints that are slow to heal, arthritic conditions and other cases of degeneration, and old injuries that are still sore and painful when the weather is cold.
- Warming Repair Soak: an herbal soak that relaxes the muscles & tendons, increases circulation and reduces pain. Used for chronic (old) injuries such as wrist pain or the ankle sprain that never completely healed.
When it comes to injuries, skip the ice, anti inflammatories and cortisone shots because they do more harm than good. Turn to massage, acupuncture and physical therapy instead. The herbs and balms/plasters can be applied quickly and easily, and be carried around in any first aid kit.
Come in for a treatment to see which product would benefit you the most!
For best results, combine use of these products with professional care from a skilled Sports Medicine Acupuncturist. In case of serious injury, seek appropriate medical care immediately. Always consult with your physician before undertaking any course of treatment.
Happy training :-)