Many of our acupuncture patients have put ice on their injuries.
Sometimes they’re coming for an acute injury, and the ice is recent. Other times, they iced an injury long ago and we can see traces of that in their body’s condition.
We love to educate people about why ice is rarely a good idea. People have been acting innocently, following what others suggest or thinking that reducing symptoms is a good idea. This is when we have a conversation with our patients about the Chinese Medicine/ Acupuncture perspective. Our framework is logical, it feels good and it helps you to understand how to take care of yourself for long-term health and wellbeing.
The idea of ice on injuries is about the appearance of swelling.
In the past, people would often feel that taking away a symptom meant that the problem was basically fixed. (In fact, this attitude still prevails in a lot of health systems, but things are gradually improving.)
If you twist your ankle, then you’ll have pain and swelling. In the old way of thinking, swelling is then seen to be a problem. Even pain was seen as a problem.
So in the old way, people would apply ice, then the swelling would reduce, and the pain might be numbed, and the conclusion is “no more signs of a problem = no more problem”.
But is this true? Is this how the body actually works?
The old way of thinking can be disrespectful to the wisdom of the body. The body is a natural complex system, balanced and self-healing, that’s evolved over a very long time.
The pain from a twisted ankle is a signal that’s communication to your mind: “hey, don’t put weight on this body part – it’s hurt”.
Swelling has several functions. It’s like a bandage that immobilises the area to reduce further damage. Also it brings to the damaged area: blood, fluids, cells to repair damage, molecules to help damaged tissues, immune cells in case of infection, and so on.
Swelling is actually a massive influx of intelligence.
Chinese Medicine looks at the impact of internal and external changes on the body. A huge area of knowledge, developed over thousands of years, relates to what happens *when the body meets cold*.
This is a very complex system of knowledge, but essentially we know that things contract, slow down and constrict.
So while ice can make swelling go down, it’s actually impairing the flow of all that natural intelligence and it’s preventing the body from self-healing.
Ice is certainly not increasing the ability of the body to repair the ankle. And the body now has to deal with the cold itself – it’s actually a new injury.
Our Chinese Medicine system, both acupuncture and herbal medicine, contains very detailed maps of what happens when cold injuries aren’t fully processed and healed. Sometimes effects can be diagnosed many years later.
Applying ice to lower back pain is especially harmful in the Chinese Medicine framework. This area of the body is a major centre of emerging and distributing vital warmth to the whole body. Older people in China, and in fact in many other cultures, will scold the youngsters to “keep the kidneys warm”.
In our framework, the vital warmth that emerges from this area is even involved with “Protective Energy”, which can roughly translate to the function of the immune system in the Western framework. (However in Chinese Medicine, these ideas are usually broader, deeper and more interconnected.)
Flow of energy and fluids through the channels of the back is fundamental to good health, to the support of all the organs of the body.
Resting, immobilising and elevating a twisted ankle is a great idea in the short term. As soon as possible, come to see us for acute treatment to support the local area and the whole body.
You can use heat packs on your lower back, which will help to circulate vital warmth to the whole body. As soon as it feels comfortable, you can also apply heat packs to the local area to help the flow of the natural healing process. A neat trick is to use the body’s maps of symmetry, and apply heat to the opposite side. Many acupuncture techniques make use of this mirroring function of how the body thinks. Of course, with any kind of self-treatment, if in doubt then please speak to your practitioner.
We can also help you with liniments made from specific herbal medicines that aim to help blood flow, reduce bruising and support the natural healing process.