Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
Healing Naturally from Sprains and Strains
Strains are injuries that occur when muscle fibers or tendons, which connect muscles to bones, overstretch or develop a tear due to overuse or fatigue. If you’ve ever felt a cramp in your thigh after running or felt very stiff after a long hike, you’ve probably had a muscle strain. Sprains occur when ligaments, which connect bones to other bones, are overstretched or torn. A sprained ankle is a common example. This article discusses ways to speed your recovery from a strain or sprain.
Should I see a doctor? Strains and mild sprains can generally be treated successfully at home. Adding RICE (described below), and other therapies, as well as dietary supplements and acupuncture to your home treatments can help speed your recovery.
Mild sprains are generally swollen and tender, but you can move the area and put a little weight on it. Be sure to see a doctor immediately if you have any of the following: significant swelling, bruising, redness or pain; inability to use or move the affected area without significant pain; the area looks crooked or bumpy; the area is numb; you see red streaks coming from the area; you’ve already injured the same area several times.
Follow your doctor’s advice and ask if you can use the therapies described below as part of your treatment; they might help speed your healing process.
Most health professionals recommend RICE therapy for the first 24-48 hours after a strain or sprain.
• Rest: Rest the injured area.
• Ice: Ice the area for 20 minutes (not longer) at a time, every 2-4 hours. Be sure to use a barrier, such as a towel, between your skin and the ice. If the area starts feeling numb before the 20 minutes are up, stop icing and then resume again at the 2-4 hour mark.
• Compression: Wrap the area with an ace bandage for one or two days. This will help support it and may help keep swelling down. Don’t wrap so tightly that circulation is cut off, however. If the wrap feels uncomfortable, experiment with taking it off. If it feels good, it is probably helping.
• Elevation: Try to keep the area elevated above the level of your heart for 2-3 hours a day. This can also help keep swelling down.
Refrain from massaging the area for a few days in order to avoid causing more swelling or bruising. If you want to massage the injured area, find someone who is experienced with sports massage.
After the swelling and redness has dissipated and the injury no longer feels hot to the touch (about three days), start doing Hot/Cold therapy. This involves surrounding the injured area first with heat and then with cold, and alternating between the two. This increases circulation, which aids healing, and helps clear excess fluid.
To do Hot/Cold therapy, you’ll need two large pots or buckets, or a double kitchen sink. Fill one pot with the hottest water you can tolerate and the other with the coldest water you can stand. Immerse the injured area in the hot water for 2-3 minutes and then place it in the cold water for 1-2 minutes. Do this 3-6 times, adjusting the water temperature as needed.
If you can move the injured area without too much pain, it is best to gently stretch and move the area while in the hot water but let it rest while in the cold. If you have to stop heating in order to stretch, always reheat the area in the hot water before cooling it down again. Always finish with the cold immersion. Do this three times per day if you can. Even once a day will be helpful.
If you don’t have large enough pots, you can soak towels, one in ice water and the other in hot water, and wrap the injured area. Do not do this on open wounds, and stop the therapy if you become lightheaded. As with any therapy, be sure to consult your doctor if you have any questions.
Should I move the area?
Research has shown the importance of movement in injury recovery. Gentle movement increases circulation to the area, helps remove excess fluid from the area, and helps keep the tissues supple. After resting a strain or mild sprain for about a day, begin gently moving and stretching the area, putting a little weight on it if it is an extremity. Go slowly and listen to your body. The movement may be a bit uncomfortable, but stop if it becomes painful in order to avoid aggravating your injury which can prolong your recovery time.
Diet and Supplements:
Your body needs nourishment in order to heal optimally. Eat at least five servings of different colored veggies and fruits per day. Certain supplements can also help your body heal.
Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples is an anti-inflammatory. Take 500mg, 3x/day, between meals. Speak with a doctor first if you are on blood-thinners or NSAIDS, as Bromelain may increase your risk of bleeding. Turmeric, another anti-inflammatory, works synergistically with Bromelain. Take 250mg twice a day. It also has blood-thinning properties, so always check with your MD.
Vitamin C helps repair connective tissue and reduces inflammation. Take 500 mg four times per day.
Reduce the amount if loose stools develop. Zinc 15-30mg/day can help with wound healing. Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oil supplements, help keep body tissues supple and help reduce inflammation. Take one teaspoon/day and be sure to keep fish oil refrigerated.
Homeopathic Arnica helps heal tissues and reduces pain and inflammation. Rub arnica cream or gel on the injured area (closed wounds only) and take arnica pills internally. Follow instructions on the package. Start using this and the other supplements as soon as you can.
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs:
Both acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help reduce pain and swelling and speed up the healing process. In Chinese medicine, an acute injury always involves stagnation of qi and blood, which is reflected in the pain, stiffness, swelling and bruising. Chinese herbal formulas contain herbs that break up this stagnation, reduce pain and encourage proper blood circulation for quicker healing. Other herbs help target the formulas to the proper areas i.e. the lower or upper extremities, the low back, or the neck and shoulder areas.
Finally, Chinese herbs can help to strengthen your body so that you may be less prone to injury.
Cita Oudijk, L.Ac., www.acupunctureportland.com, can be reached at 503.720.9361