Amongst the most common type of injuries to the body are sinew traumas such as sprains, strains and tears to musculature and surrounding tissues. This may be due to sports injuries but also repetitive tasks such as typing or gardening. A strain or sprain of a ligament or muscle can vary from minor, involving microscopic tears and inflammation, to severe, involving complete tears which can create major instability and pain in the offending area.
Chinese Medicine recognises 3 distinct stages to a sinew injury: acute, sub-acute and chronic. The acute stage generally lasts from one to seven days and usually involves pain, swelling, redness and inflammation. At this point treatment is about restoring normal circulation of blood, qi (energy flow) and fluids while reducing inflammation, pain and increasing mobility. Non-local acupuncture is very good as it doesn’t directly enter the injury site but can help reduce pain and promote healing. Avoid heat application at this stage.
* A word about using ice on injuries. Chinese Medicine does not usually recommended ice as it may initially reduce pain and inflammation but at a cost. It contracts local blood vessels and tissues by freezing and hardening them, preventing normal circulation and healing. The cold can then settle deeply into the joint creating further stiffness and contraction long term.
Stage 2 usually starts within the first week of an injury and lasts up to three weeks. Most of the inflammation and pain should be gone and stiffness may be present. Applying heat packs, hot compresses or herbal soaks can be very helpful. Massage, acupressure, liniment and more direct acupuncture are good, as are exercises and movement to prevent further stiffening or scar tissue.
Stage 3 or chronic stage is all about continuing to reduce stiffness and promote strength and stability. Warming liniments, heat packs, acupuncture and increasing exercise and stretching are important while being aware of not over-using the area before it’s ready, to prevent re-injury.