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Chinese Medicine and Acute Injury

by Anne Gordon

Chinese Medicine and Acute Injury, Atha Wellness in Kirkland, WA


As a life long athlete, I feel pretty fortunate that I have never had a "serious" injury.  Sure, I've got tight and overly strained hamstrings from years of marathon training and trail running.  And I am no stranger to sciatic pain from piriformis syndrome, but I've never had a sprain, break or acute tear.  Until this week that is.  

I've had a perverse sense of pride in never having fallen - ever - while trail running.  I'd race up and down the hills, navigating rocks, creeks, roots, you name it, skillfully avoiding any  ankle twists or sprains.  This week was different.  Maybe it was the time I went out, it was still pretty early, 5:30 AM, and I thought that I chose a trail well that would allow for enough early morning light to filter through the trees.  Mid run, around a bend, in the woods, coming down a hill, and bam, I was down.  It hurt!  a lot!  I was stunned and more than a little worried.  How would I get home?  I was in the woods, alone, and had to climb a pretty big hill of switchbacks to get back to my car.  I sat for a few minutes and assessed the situation.  My left ankle wasn't broken, and the pain was beginning to subside.  After another minute or two, I got up, put some weight on it, and took a few steps.  Much to my relief, I could still walk and run!  I finished my run, switchback climb and all.  

Of course I knew that I was lucky and still needed to treat my ankle for a first degree sprain (ligaments on the lateral side of my ankle were stretched, but not torn), and I could expect pain and swelling later on.  Back at my office, I applied acupuncture with electrical stimulation to specific points to reduce swelling and alleviate pain, followed by a topical analgesic liniment called Dit Da Jow which is a time tested herbal remedy that reduces pain and swelling from acute injuries.  Lastly, I used an herbal formula of San Huang San or "Three Yellows Powder" that increase local circulation and reduce pain and swelling.  I continued with treatment for a few days.  

Most people are surprised to learn that Chinese Medicine can be very effective for treating sports injuries. I do want to point out however, that while acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help with acute and chronic conditions, it is important to consult with a licensed physician for orthopedic conditions to rule out any fractures or severe muscle tears that may require medical intervention. For injuries like fractures, or deep cuts that require stitches, seek medical care immediately.

So how can Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs Help?

Once diagnosed or assessed, Chinese Medicine offers so many effective and therapeutic options for healing and recovery.  

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have treated pain for thousands of years using principles based on nature and the body’s natural healing abilities. These principles essentially state that once you identify an imbalance, you need to do the opposite to promote healing and better health.

Herbal medicine (topical and oral) as analgesics and anti-inflammatories:  If the area is hot and inflamed, we use “cool” herbs, either internally or topically with hot compresses or soaks. If an area is cold or stagnant, we use gentle heat and “warm” herbs to stimulate circulation. The energetic principle behind this treatment involves stimulating circulation and bringing the tissues back to normal temperatures.

The insertion of Acupuncture needles to reduce pain by promoting circulation and the flow of Qi and Blood.  

On the use of ice:  One big difference between Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine treatments is that we do not use ice. In fact, growing research shows that ice can hinder the healing process for soft tissue (muscular) injuries rather than help it. Essentially, while ice helps reduce inflammation and reduces pain, it also reduces circulation which delays healing. The ideal remedy during the early stages of an injury would reduce swelling while also promoting circulation. This combination minimizes pain while allowing the body’s natural inflammatory healing process to take place.  So if you must use ice, consider hydrotherapy, alternating ice packs with a hot water bottle for a few cycles, ending with the hot water bottle, to create a pumping effect enhancing circulation.

Other healing and therapeutic methods may be  incorporated like electroacupuncture, cupping, gua sha, heat lamp therapy, moxibustion, nutritional counseling, and exercise (qi gong & tai chi) as needed since they can amplify the effects of acupuncture and Chinese herbs when used appropriately.

For more information regarding your health concerns, please call or email me at (425)305-3637 or

Yours in health (and training),


Kirkland, WA