Saturday, January 7, 2012

Acute Injuries: The Most Effective Treatments To Get You Back Training ASAP

"Let Like Be Cured With Like." ~"Law Of Similars"

The biggest dilemma of living in an outdoor recreation mecca, such as Bend, OR. is what activity to do on any given day. Bend is known as the "birthplace" of modern American sport climbing. "Smith Rock State Park" is the incubator that allowed a new era of climbing to emerge in the early 80's. In addition, Bend is rated in the top 5 for its trail systems in the U.S. Mountain biking and trail running are a favorite pastime of the town's inhabitants.

In the winter months, options abound here. Over coffee, a "Bend-ite" may have a "U.S. Forest Service" trail map on the table, the "Mt. Bachelor" weather hotline on hold, & be looking at the "Smith Rock" web cam all at the same time.

As the excited outdoor lover puts on his/her clothes (with many layers, of course!), you may notice in the driveway a car already packed to the gills: mountain bike on the back, kayak & snowboard on top, dog, climbing gear and trail-running shoes already loaded up inside.

The nationally acclaimed TV show "Portlandia" claims that "Portland, OR. is the place where young people go to retire." I would venture to say that Bend is the place where everyone goes to retire. Its that good. :)

With all of the myriad possibilities for play surrounding the "Bend-ite," a few bumps and bruises are inevitable. My dear friend, and climbing pal, head of the local "Search & Rescue" rock climbing dept., Randy Columbell, says it best: "If You're Not Flying, You're Not Trying." This is in reference to taking a few falls, while pushing your limits with climbing. Falling is part of climbing. It WILL happen. No two ways about it. Same goes for mountain biking, snow sports, kayaking, etc. Its all part of the process of improving at any given sport.

With that being said, there are things you can do to help mitigate the pain of an acute injury, and get you back out playing again ASAP.

I admit it. I'm not a very good patient. A bit hypocritical, I realize, considering I treat patients, day in and day out. Put me on the couch for more than 24 hrs., and its not pretty. I crave the outdoors, like a fish to water, and if I don't get my "outdoor fix," I do go a 'lil bonkers. This is why I'm vested in figuring out the best (and quickest) possible way (with the least side effects) to heal an injury. I'm just like you. I don't like being injured, and thank God (knock on wood) it doesn't happen to me often.

Our culture, and western medicine, is obsessed with ice for acute injury recovery. The latest in sports medicine news says that this obsession has little science behind it. See the following "NY Times" article:


The content in the NYT article echoes what ancient medicine has stated all along. Ice is not necessarily the answer. What does ice do? Ice numbs the pain. This is a fact. Can that be helpful in some situations? Certainly, to ease the injured for a short period of time. However, it is not the "cure all" for acute injuries that its been made out to be. This goes for both joints and muscles. Nor is it very helpful for anything other than the initial 15 mins. of pain, according to Chinese medicine.

If ice isn't the answer for acute pain, then what is? It may surprise you. "The Law of Similars" gives us the answer: "Treat Like With Like." This is the basis for homeopathic medicine (where vaccinations originally came from: give the disease to prevent/treat the disease). In addition, the origins of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine echo the same wisdom. Spagyrical homeopathy is a forte of Ayurvedic medicine, and originally came out of Egypt. It traveled east, eventually reaching India, where it became honed to an art. "The Law of Similars" can also be seen in the most ancient of martial arts sparring formulas.

Chinese medicine could really be considered the world's first system of sports medicine. Crafted for centuries, by monk-warriors of the Shaolin sect, who focused on acupuncture protocols and herbal remedies for weapon injuries to sparring wounds. Their formulas for broken bones, tendon sprain/strains, and all manners of muscle injuries are unparalleled. We think this is "new age" medicine? Quite to the contrary. Its thousands of years old. In comparison, western medicine has been around for the blink of an eye.

In no way, shape or form, am I saying western medicine isn't a vital, necessary part of medical treatment. In the way of emergency situations, its a gift. Would I go to the ER if I had a broken bone? Absolutely. Would I add in other protocols that have been shown to speed recovery by up to 65% (such as acupuncture and moxabustion). There's no question about it. If you have need, by all means go to the ER. But there are things you can do to get yourself back to playing, competing and training that compliment what western medicine does, more speedily.

If you're not in need of an ER, then there are things you can do at home that will greatly aid recovery. People have asked me how I've recovered from climbing and mtn. biking injuries so quickly. I will share with you "tricks of the trade" that you can implement in your recovery of acute injuries. Let's explore these...

ACUPUNCTURE: It goes without saying that acupuncture has substantial research behind it. We know it works. "The mechanism of action is unknown," however, which is just really an academic way of saying we have no idea how it works yet. We just know that it does. Look up acupuncture research on "PubMed" or the "National Institute of Health" websites and you'll find exhaustive research to back it.

To receive acupuncture 1-3x per week after an acute injury is ideal. It will not only reduce inflammation quickly, but it will strengthen and heal surrounding nerve tissue and fascia. Add electro-stim. to the needles and you will see remarkable healing. Find a licensed acupuncturist in your area, who specializes in sports injuries. They will augment your recovery process, and you'll be back to training in no time.

Performing electro.-stim. acupuncture on my swollen ankle, post first lead fall (I flipped upside down, then "cheese grated" all the way down an arete!). This acupuncture treatment was performed 4 hrs. after the fall (notice how swollen the ankle is). The next day I ran the 10k "Xterra Trail Race" with ZERO pain. :)

75% of the world uses herbal medicine to treat ailments. This is a big number. Ancient peoples observed what animals ate, chewed on, etc. after being wounded in the wild. They then, adapted these plants, into medicine tinctures, powders, poultices and the like for human use. Some societies even honed this practice to a science, such as the forefathers of medicine in Tibet, Egypt, Greece, China and India. In addition, indigenous peoples the world over came up with their own ways of applying plant medicine. There are many Rx.'s for acute injuries. I have somewhat of an obsession with Shaolin remedies. I have a passion for ancient medical texts, and find the Shaolin sect of monks to be unparalleled in their wisdom of treating acute pain and injuries. Please see your local acupuncturist, or naturopathic physician, for an injury herbal Rx. My athlete patients are amazed at how fast their injuries heal. Their referrals and testimonies are what has built my practice.

Chinese herbs being made into tinctures :)

Chinese herbal Rx.'s

MOXABUSTION: If I was on a desert island, and could have one thing in my "First Aid" kit for all manners of acute injuries, it would be moxabustion. Moxabustion is my "ice," and is absolutely dynamite for reducing inflammation quickly. Here is where the "Law of Similars" can be seen in Chinese medicine. We treat heat (inflammation) with heat (moxabustion). In a way, you can almost think of the heat from the moxabustion "canceling" out the heat of the inflammation. Its the best way I can explain its effects, and why it works so quickly. Known as "plant aspirin," its an athlete's best friend. I carry it in my climbing bag. I carry it in my gym bag. I've had the opportunity to perform moxa on patients in emergency situations, and its amazing. You will watch the inflammation reduce in front of your eyes. There are many ways to apply moxa. You should obtain it from your local acupuncturist or naturopathic physician. Look up the research on moxabustion. The statistics are exciting. Its said to be the "Queen herb of moving Qi & Blood." Whenever you hear the term "blood mover" in Chinese medicine, think "inflammation reducer." Moxabustion is my "secret weapon."

Moxabustion being applied via a moxa stick. "Like Treats Like" (heat treats heat/inflammation)

Moxabustion being applied via "Warm Needle Technique" (amazing for acute injuries!)

Moxa cones, being placed over area of injury, for quick reduction of inflammation

POULTICES/COMPRESSES: Herbs have been placed topically over areas of pain and inflammation for centuries. The method still works to this day. There are many ways of doing this. When I was camping once, I found an herb in the wild, that I knew could help a large cut I had. The cut kept bleeding like a war wound. The cut itself wasn't that large, but it wouldn't stop bleeding. I had some gauze in my emergency "First Aid" kit in my backpack. I smashed the plant, until the vital juices began oozing out of the leaves, stem and bark. I then proceeded to place the plant matter in between two pieces of gauze. I had surgical tape in my "First Aid" kit also. I taped this poultice (the plant matter smashed in between the two pieces of gauze) onto my leg. The bleeding stopped within five minutes. :)

Mountain Biking at "Phil's Trail," Bend, OR.

This girl loves her bike, dirt and trails! A few bruises and bumps are to be expected... :)

LINIMENTS: Liniments are liquid extracts of herbs that move Qi & Blood swiftly and effectively. Again, created by the Shaolin monks over centuries, there are as many liniment formulas as there are injuries. There are liniments for bruising, arthritis, sprains, strains, tears and breaks. Consult with your local acupuncturist as to what liniment is appropriate for your injury. Like the moxa, these have a home in both my climbing and gym bags. :)

HOMEOPATHY: Homeopathy is not only a science, but an art. There are few more gifted homeopaths in the Pacific N.W. than Dr. Mitchell Bebel Stargrove, N.D., L.Ac. He is located in Portland, OR. I've always felt so grateful to have been his T.A. for several years. He's as knowledgeable about the history of homeopathy as he is its application. There are simple home remedies that you can apply, in the way of homeopathy, for an acute, non-emergency injury. Arnica is the most well-respected and well known for bruising and trauma to tissues. You may find it in health foods stores in a variety of applications from creams, to lotions to homeopathic "pellets." My advice, when there is acute bruising and trauma to tissues is to do both topical and internal applications. Another swift-acting homeopathic remedy is "Traumeel." Some naturopaths offer "Traumeel" injections to areas of acute swelling and inflammation. It works like a charm. Arnica and "Traumeel" are both good things to have in your backpack, gym bag, etc.

There are many applications of "Traumeel."

Arnica montana, also commonly known as "leopard's bane, wolf's bane, mountain tobacco and mountain arnica."

St. John's Wort, Hypericum Perforatum, is known in western herbalism as a treatment for depression. In homeopathy it is known for acute injuries, particularly those "injuries to nerves, especially of fingers, toes and nails. Crushed fingers, especially tips. Excessive painfulness is a guiding symptom to its use. Prevents lockjaw. Punctured wounds. Relieves pain after operations." See a licensed naturopathic physician for homeopathy care and dosage.

For those that love to "play hard," like me there are many side-effect free options to support your recovery. Whatever your given sport is, its not a bad idea to implement some of the above recovery suggestions. Its also a good idea to have a natural "First Aid" kit, with some of the above liniments, homeopathics, creams, etc. inside.

The joy of sport is to find your "edge," while taking care of yourself and being smart about it. After all, they say that "Life Begins At The Edge Of Your Comfort Zone." I think this is so true, but it doesn't hurt to have safety equipment on and some remedies in your "toolbox" along the way. After all, the better you take care of yourself the more time you'll have to play... :)

My first 10a trad. lead attempt on the route, "Black Angel," at "Meadow Camp," Bend, OR., 2011

"Exchanging blows generously, which is not uncommon in some other martial arts, is unthinkable in Shaolin philosophy, because a Shaolin disciple always assumes that an opponent is competent and able to inflict damage with just one blow." ~WONG KIEW KIT, "Art of Shaolin Kung Fu"