You might first ask - what is wrong with using ice, especially for an acute injury? It certainly does reduce inflammation temporarily, and bring pain relief. However, ice also contracts the blood vessels as well as the muscles and sinews, and from a Chinese medicine perspective, it causes stagnation of qi, blood and fluids. These side effects actually impede the healing process and may ultimately increase the potential for injury.
For example, a patient of mine had been in an accident which caused severe contusions down the length of her thigh. As this was treated with ice, the blood that was forced out of the blood vessels stagnated inside the muscle tissue with no-where else to go. The blood congealed and hardened, gluing muscle fibres together and blocking the local circulation to the upper leg. As a result, she had a painful, hard black-and-blue bruise along the length of her thigh for several years. It was harder for her body to circulate qi and blood to the area and it is thought that blockages of this kind may eventually affect the internal organs via the meridian system. This is an extreme example, but it demonstrates how the improper treatment of injuries with ice can lead to long term systemic effects as well as causing ongoing pain and restriction of movement.
So, what is the alternative?
There is a simple poultice that you can make, based on the formula San Huang San, to apply in place of ice for all acute injuries. This 'herbal ice' treatment has the same cooling, anti-inflammatory, anti-swelling action as ice, whilst also dispersing congealed blood and fluids to enhance the healing process and prevent further injury. Ensuring that the circulation is unimpeded is the key for an efficacious, fast and uncomplicated recovery. This formula is remarkably effective and should be in everyone's first aid kit.
San Huang San (modified): For EXTERNAL use ONLY
Da Huang (Rhizoma rehi)
Huang Qin (Radix scutellaria)
Huang Bai (Cortex phellodendri)
Pu Gong Yin (Herba taraxaci)
Zhi Zi (Fructus gardenia)
Hong Hua (Flos carthami)
Use equal amounts of each herb, 10 grams of each will make enough for several applications. You can buy these dried herbs from a Chinese pharmacy or herb supplier. There are several closeby the clinic if you are in the Marrickville area. You will need to have the herbs then ground to a fine powder. You can also order this formula through me if that is easier or you don't have a herbalist nearby - I can order them from my online dispensary and have them posted out to you. Contact me here.
Once you have your powdered herbs, you need to:
- Mix the herbs with a medium (options discussed below) until you have a thick, mud-like paste
- Apply the paste thickly onto the affected area as if you were frosting a cake
- Cover the paste with gauze pads or paper towelling, then
- Wrap the area with rolled gauze, ensuring that it is firm but not tight so as to not impede circulation.
Use this poultice as soon as possible, and leave in place for several hours or overnight, until the swelling has subsided.
Mediums for making your poultice:
Vaseline (or a natural product with similar consistency)
Vaseline is a handy all-purpose medium which allows you to premix this formula and have it ready to go. Melt the vaseline and mix it with the powdered herbs, then store it in a jar away from sunlight. As it cools it will congeal into a thick, gooey paste.
As green tea has a cooling and anti-inflammatory effect all on its own, as a medium it can enhance the effects of San Huang San. Simply brew a cup of green tea and mix it with the powdered herbs to make a thick paste.
Egg whites have traditionally been used to treat sprains and strains, and are particularly good mixed with San Huang San for more severe injuries as they direct the action of the formula direction to the muscles, tendons and cartilage. Mix egg whites with the powdered herbs to make a paste for injuries such as severe contusions, torn muscles or meniscus tears.
It might seem like a lot of work to apply this herbal formula, and it certainly takes a lot more thought and preparation than just using an ice-pack. However, keep in mind that we are aiming for long-term effective and efficient healing, and especially for more severe injuries, using this time-tested and deeply healing strategy will ensure that your body can heal itself as quickly as possible.
I hope you are finding this mini-series of Chinese Medicine First Aid helpful and thought-inspiring. I would like to credit Tom Bisio and his book "A tooth from the tiger's mouth" as the source of information and inspiration for this post. If you missed any of the previous posts, you can find them here:
Chinese Medicine First Aid - Part One: Nosebleeds, Conjunctivitis & Burns
Chinese Medicine First Aid - Part Two: Sprains, Strains & Bruises
Chinese Medicine First Aid - Part Three: Cuts & Stings
May you stay well and happy. Stay tuned for more helpful pearls of wisdom from Chinese Medicine.
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