In my impression from childhood, whenever people had a bruise, fracture, or dislocation, they would go to a Chinese medicine clinic to reunite bones, obtain massage, and apply Chinese topical ointments, as well as take wound medicine prescriptions to activate blood circulation and remove blood stasis. Then the damage would be healed quickly.
But nowadays when people get injured, they often go to a Western medical clinic or hospital, where ice compresses are applied first (within 24 hours), followed by heat compresses (after 48 hours), then use anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and muscle relaxant medications.
After having compared the two results of clinical treatment, I find that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatment is more effective, is relatively free of after-effects, and the body will recover faster.
What are the characteristics of TCM for bruises and injuries? Where is the blind spot of modern medical treatment? I would like to present the following discussion for the reader’s reference, based on a TCM doctor’s observation and understanding.
Ice Packs May Lead to Post-Traumatic Sequelae
It is known that when a muscle is damaged by straining or spraining, Western medicine recommends applying ice compresses to the affected area to keep it from swelling too much and to relieve pain.
Although this method can temporarily stop the bleeding and pain, it takes more time to heal the localized blood stasis and to relax tense muscle ligaments and fascia.
According to my clinical observation, direct application of ice compresses will cause local blood clotting and render muscle ligament and fascia cold and tense—a kind of damp-heat arthralgia and palsy. It may become a long-lasting chronic illness that is hard to heal.
From the perspective of modern therapies, inflammation after injury must be controlled quickly to promote healing. However, as a protective response of the body to injury, inflammation would be considered by TCM to help heal damaged muscle tissue. TCM believes that the key to treatment is how to activate the body’s self-healing power.
Caring for Tendons
According to the “Golden Mirror of Medicine” (Yizong Jinjian, 醫宗金鑒 ), a TCM masterpiece compiled in the Qing Dynasty, it is advisable for bruises and injuries to use the massage method to press the meridians and channels to release the stagnant Qi, and to massage the congestion to disperse the stagnant swelling. Ancient Chinese see Qi as a power that can drive all life activities.
Using various massage methods can harmonize Qi and blood, and promote circulation to achieve rapid self-healing of the body.
Bone injury is often accompanied by Qi stagnation and blood stasis at the same time. External forces-induced tendon and muscle injury, with damage to the joints and veins, obstructs the flow of Qi and blood, forming hematoma.
The ache of bruising and swelling from bone injury is the result of stagnation of Qi and blood. The focus of treatment should be to open the stagnant Qi and blood so that it can flow freely. Then the pain and stagnation will disappear.
The use of ice compresses to relieve pain and reduce swelling usually only causes more stagnation of Qi and blood, and delays the healing of the condition.
Therefore, in the initial stage of bruises and swelling, TCM instead uses the concept of hot compresses to warm the Qi and blood, so that the stagnation can be dispersed, and the swelling and pain can disappear.
For initial bruises and swelling, it is common to use a boiled, warm, shelled duck egg to iron the affected area, which is a variation of traditional Chinese medicine treatment. Note: the egg should not be consumed after use. The above treatment is suitable for general bruises.
Additional internal treatment with herbs and external washing or application is required for localized redness, severe swelling, and aches. If infection triggers a fever, if blood stasis and heat toxicity are internalized, or if there is a bone abscess or bone gangrene.
Three Stages of TCM Fracture Treatment
The use of Chinese medicine for fracture treatment varies subtly depending on the site of the injury, the strength of the body, and the stage of the fracture. Generally speaking, there are three stages of fracture treatment.
In the first stage, when a fracture has just occurred, thrombosis may be formed by blood, tissue fluid, and fat. This may even cause potential damage to the body from stroke and myocardial infarction. To avoid this, we must first use drugs to remove blood stasis. If the patient is young, consider using eupolyphaga sinensis (地鱉蟲); if the patient is older, use salvia miltiorrhiza (丹參) and panax notoginseng (生三七). If the pain is severe at the beginning of the fracture, frankincense (乳香) and myrrh (沒藥) can be used to relieve swelling and pain.
In the second stage, when symptoms of blood stasis and swelling pain are reduced, the patient can start to take medicines to help relax the tendons and activate the joints. Chinese medicine believes that the liver governs tendons and kidneys govern bones. So in order for the tendons and bones to heal quickly, we need to take medicines to nourish the liver and kidneys, such as davallia mariesii (骨碎補), psoralea corylifolia (補骨脂), and radix dipsaci (續斷).
In Chinese medicine, one of the essential medications to promote bone healing is native copper, a mineral pyrite, mainly containing iron disulfide (FeS2). The most important ingredient to promote bone healing is iron rather than calcium.
Patients with fractures should take more foods containing calcium and iron. Natural foods are preferred for calcium and iron supplementation. Synthetic calcium tablets and iron supplements are not recommended.
In addition, people normally choose to drink milk to supply calcium. But I do not recommend drinking too much milk because it will trigger animal protein in the body to be over-absorbed, which in turn will lead to the loss of calcium.
To replenish calcium naturally, you can drink fish soup, which contains collagen and calcium, along with eating vegetables.
During the healing phase, attention should be paid to moderate body movements to avoid local muscle ligaments from being too tight at the fracture site, causing unfavorable limb movements. In this case, TCM can be added to soothe the tendons and activate the blood to make the body move flexibly.
In the third stage, after the clinical healing of the fracture, patients are suffering from chronic pain, deficiency of Qi and blood, and impotence of muscle, tendons, and bones. The body is weak, and resistance-ability is reduced, so medications should be adopted to tonify the spleen, stomach, Qi, and blood throughout the treatment process to speed up recovery.
In conclusion, Chinese medicine has accumulated a lot of valuable experience in the treatment of trauma and fracture since ancient times, and its therapies and prescriptions are very effective. It’s worth promoting.