Sports Injuries and Eastern Medicine



Healthy Living Blog by Dr. Rachelle Daom, L,Ac


There are almost 9 million sports injuries a year in the United States. On top of this number are the many injuries done each year not even related to sports but Sports injuriesdue to accidents whether secondary to degeneration of muscles and joints or trauma events. These injuries can occur in many areas of the body affecting muscles, bones, connective tissue like ligaments and tendons, and also joints. Some of the more common injuries include back pain, swollen joints, shoulder or rotator cuff tears, knee, hamstring, ankle, and much more. Acupuncture is used all over the world by athletes to help promote optimal recovery, to speed healing, reduce pain, and increase overall stamina and muscle strength.

Acupuncture for sports injuries has long been recognized for pulled tendons, sciatica, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, and even torn ligaments to help expedite healing and reduce pain. Eastern Medicine can play a huge role in much faster recovery, prevention of injury by strengthening bone and joints, and overall optimal performance. The Olympians are often seen using the ancient knowledge of Eastern Medicine by not only using acupuncture but fire cupping to help muscles recover quickly after intense training. Other modalities that are often used besides fire cupping and acupuncture, are tuina (a therapeutic massage), electrical stimulation of acupoints, and heat therapy to further improve blood flow. Food therapy is also essential so the body is able to heal quickly. Qi gong and tai chi exercises are often used as rehabilitation as in physical therapy to strengthen muscles and joints and to maintain flexibility.

One of the big questions by patients is to use ice or not to use ice. In most instances, ice can actually hinder the healing process for muscular or soft tissue injuries. Ice reduces inflammation by vasodilation which leads to a decrease in blood flow. Delay of healing occurs with this reduction in circulation. So, though it may help initially reduce inflammatory pain, ice also prevents the regeneration phase of healing. In the early stages of injury, blood flow should not be impeded but actually restored and swelling reduced. This concept also mimics how the body naturally heals. For many centuries, both acupuncture and eastern herbs have been used for many protocols including martial arts injuries in both acute and chronic instances.

There is what is called the three step process or phase of healing which includes the initial inflammation phase which includes swelling, redness, bruising, and pain. This exists the first few days after the initial injury. Increasing circulation to prevent delay in healing is vital in this phase. Secondly, the repair phase is the regeneration of actual muscle fiber. This is usually with noted range of motion still affected, pain, and formation of scar tissue. This process can begin about 5 days after onset to 30 days but can last up to three months depending on the severity of the injury. Reinjury is a major concern and needs to be avoided when the area of injury starts recovering. The last stage is regeneration in which range of motion becomes improved along with actual strengthening. It is important for the healing process to be done correctly in order to avoid extended delay of healing and more tightness in that area of injury.

Eastern medicine used during the inflammatory phase is focused on alleviating pain, but also promoting blood flow to the area of injury. This phase is typically 1 to 7 days with acute injury and is dependent on severity. Acupuncture is optimal in both improving blood flow to that area and to reduce swelling. Acu points may be chosen below or above injury if too tender. Following this phase is the more subacute treatment which can last several weeks in more severe cases. The goal of the practitioner at this time is still reducing pain but also improving overall range of motion. Continuing to improve circulation is key which both acupuncture and herbs do so well. Physical therapy is also a vital part in strengthening and preventing stiffness from setting in. If needed, warmer herbal prescriptions can be used simultaneously with the acupuncture to help expedite the healing process. Acupuncture also helps release soft tissue constriction and regain muscle function.

Chronic stages of healing with sports injuries is where complete healing and remodeling take place. If the first two phases have not properly taken affect, there can be residual pain and a lack of full range of motion or function of joint or soft tissue.

Herbal formulas also work more in alignment with the body to help strengthen soft tissue, joints, muscles, even bones. Often your holistic physician may prescribe you a natural based anti-inflammatory formula that relieves pain but also repairs joints and strengthens connective tissues. Certain formulas along with acupuncture help prevent atrophy and wasting of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. There are chondroprotective therapeutic actions to protect cartilage that have been seen in many herbal formulas as well as both osteogenic and antiosteoporotic functions to promote generation of bones. Dependent on severity of injury and the chronic nature, herbal prescriptions may be recommended during the healing process.

Though it is important to rest during the recovery period of injury, it is also important to maintain flexibility and movement. This is why physical therapy is much needed or some form of tai chi or qi qong practices to keep the body in movement. These gentle exercises will not only help expedite recovery but will also ensure there is not muscle atrophy. If you or a loved one has had a sports injury whether acute or chronic, please call to make an office appointment today. Let’s start the journey to optimal health and recovery! 772-353-1397