Often when we get an acute injury, we are told to ice the area. RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) is the well known first-line intervention for acute injuries. This has been the prevailing advice for many years, but this is now being questioned in the scientific literature. Evidence is beginning to emerge that the use of ice on acute injuries may actually delay the healing process, a case where the Western scientific evidence is beginning to catch up with the wisdom of Chinese medicine. METH (movement, elevation, traction, heat) has been demonstrated to assist a faster recovery process.
The idea behind using cold therapy in acute conditions is to reduce swelling and inflammation to reduce pain. It is worth remembering however that the swelling and inflammation are a natural response to injury, they serve the purpose to protect the injured area and we need the inflammatory response to heal properly from injury.
The use of heat
Heat increases cellular and metabolic activity which increases oxygen uptake and thus benefits healing. Heat applied superficially can also increase vascular flow and thus remove heat from the site of inflammation due to increased circulation.
In Chinese Medicine, heat therapy is generally applied in the form of moxibustion, where mugwort leaf is burnt to invigorate circulation, restore warmth and strengthen our energy, essential for healing and recovery from injuries. The use of liniments such as Zheng Gu Shui is also useful for a similar purpose.
Thus, after the initial period of injury heat therapy is more appropriate than ice, helping to restore circulation and promote healing after an acute injury.
This is also an essential consideration in the management of chronic injuries, with persistent and ongoing symptoms. As these injuries flare-up, the application of ice will impair the healing process with heart better suited to aid in recovery.
Following the initial period of injury treatments with massage, acupuncture or Chinese herbs can benefit the recovery process, accelerating the reduction of pain and helping to restore movement and function of the injured area to normal. In the case of chronic injuries, the underlying contributing factors can be identified and appropriate natural treatments determined to assist the recovery process.
So, the next time you have an injury, talk to us about how to best manage it for your individual circumstance.