When you get an injury, the first thing people reach for is ice. It constricts blood vessels to reduce swelling and inflammation and it desensitises nerve endings to reduce pain. It sounds great, doesn’t it?
However, in the area of injury, you will find dead tissue as well as blood and other fluid leaked into the tissue. When you apply ice, it reduces the supply of nutrients, such as oxygen, and white blood cells which help to clean up the area, and decreases lymph drainage and removal of damaged cells. What you end up with is a stagnant pool of rubbish that is starting to congeal and harden, sticking onto your muscles, tendons and ligaments. In addition, ice causes your muscles, tendons and ligaments to contract, and post-injury, they have already contracted as a result of having been overstretched, making it more difficult for normal movement to be regained and once again, slowing the healing process.
Additionally, from a Chinese Medicine viewpoint, coldness can also penetrate our energy systems, which is why sometimes, arthritic-like pain is felt when it is cold.
So, what can be done instead?
- Apply emergency acupoints to reduce pain and stimulate energy and circulation.
- Cup and bleed local area to remove stagnant blood and fluid.
- Self-massage with liniments that move the blood, reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Massage towards the heart to assist with lymphatic drainage.
- Apply cooling herbal poultices to reduce inflammation, move the blood and nourish the muscles and tendons. There is a “herbal ice” called “San Huang San” which is the gold standard poultice for acute injuries and is best applied immediately after being injured.
- Rest the injured area to prevent further injury.
- Apply heat with wheat bags or have warm baths once redness and heat have dissipated.
- Move the area gently when able in order to maintain movement and circulation.
If you don’t have anything available except ice, use it sparingly only for ten minutes every hour, and only in the first 24 hours, and see a Chinese Medicine practitioner as soon as you are able!