For many years sports players have relied on conventional Western medical treatments to care for sports related injuries, however Traditional Chinese Medicine has recently become a popular and effective alternative. Today many world class sports stars and professional sports players incorporate TCM, particularly acupuncture, into their training regimes and use it as a method to treat any injuries they may incur. It’s proved very beneficial for a range of injuries including, neck pain, lower back strains, groin and hamstring problems, ‘Runners’ knee’ , shin splints and Achilles Tendonitis.
Traditionally Westerners have used treatments such as massage, manipulation, ultrasound and TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machines, often accompanied by a complementary program of stretching. However the use of TCM has become increasingly widespread as it has proved to be an extremely effective way to treat sprain and strain injuries and to reduce pain. For thousands of years the Chinese have been using a range of therapies to treat all kinds of bodily injuries, whether arising from playing sports or just through normal day to day activities. One such therapy is the little known ‘Dit Da Jow’ or ‘fall and break’ medicine which makes use of poultices and balms prepared from herbs as external remedies to restore balance to the qi and blood.
When beginning any course of TCM to treat sports injuries it’s very important that the practitioner is able to assess the severity of the injury before starting the therapy. TCM practitioners believe that excessive exercise may cause depletion in the energy of the body (qi, blood, yin and yang) which in turn allows the body to become more vulnerable to injuries, especially those caused by overuse or repetitive movements which cause weaknesses to the muscles, tendons and ligaments. During the initial session the practitioner will make a general assessment of the patient’s health as a whole before making a diagnosis of the injury and determining whether the injury is a direct or indirect injury and whether it is acute, sub-acute or chronic.
Direct injuries occur as a result of an impact from an external force and can cause bruising, internal bleeding, ligament sprains and muscles strains, whereas indirect injuries normally occur without direct damage from an external source, but are due to excessive twisting, bending or overloading the body, actions which can result in tears, strains and sprains of the tendons, ligaments and tendons.
Acute injuries are categorised as those which have occurred within the last 72 hours. A TCM practitioner may choose to use ice to slow down any swelling or inflammation before moving on to other forms of treatment such as acupuncture. Sub acute injuries are injuries which are more than 72 hours old but typically less than 90 days. This is a crucial time for rehabilitating the injury as often the sufferer may no longer feel such intensive pain and have a greater range of motion during this period and may therefore stop the treatment before the injury is completely healed.
On the other hand, chronic injuries have developed or been ongoing for a long period of time and may have resulted in a significant decrease in the sufferer’s range of motion. In order to treat chronic injuries, the practitioner may use a heat lamp or moxibustion, which increases the circulation, breaking up any qi and blood stagnation. Stretching exercises also prove beneficial at this point as they encourage the flow of blood and qi and help to restore movement and flexibility to any shortened muscles. Topical application of balms such as tiger balm and red flower oil, which can be applied directly to the affected area twice daily, may also be recommended.
TCM is an ideal treatment for injuries in any of these stages as it not only helps to control the pain and reduce any swellings, spasms and/or inflammation, but can also treat any underlying conditions that may have contributed to the injury in the first place.
Most practitioners will use acupuncture to treat all manner of sports injuries, employing a variety of techniques depending on the nature of the injury. Thread needling, has been used in China for pain relief during surgery and is a popular technique for treating superficial injuries which cover a large area. Usually three or four inch long needles are threaded just under the skin along the affected area.
Eagle claw needling is a beneficial technique when the injury is small and localised, e.g. tennis elbow. Here two or three, one inch long, needles will be inserted and threaded towards each other in a shape resembling an eagle’s claw, aiming directly as the site of the injury.
For larger areas, the starfish technique may be employed, using seven needles spread out in a typical starfish shape. This has proved especially beneficial for knee injuries.
So the next time you pull your hamstring or twist your ankle, why not use Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat your sports injury?