by: Miki Higuchi L.Ac. on July 19, 2011
If you see an acupuncturist, there is usually a point where they insist "No ice!". But why? Growing up here in California, it is fairly common knowledge that ice is what is used for anything that hurts. We are told that ice reduces inflammation and speeds healing. And let's face it, when it hurts, icy numbness makes it feel better. So, what's the big deal?
I thought I would give you a real-world example of how this can work. But in a nutshell, this is Chinese Medicine's thoughts on the topic first so you know where I'm coming from.
When you create an injury in your body, whether its' a sprained ankle, broken foot, or even a cut on your arm, your body races to repair it. The body is geared to send all it can to that injury to start the recovery process. The body is pretty great that way. Now, what does ice do? Think of ice cubes, icebergs, ice cream! Ice congeals into a hard substance , ice numbs and stops feeling. Ice stops the flow of substances. So, when your body is trying to bring white blood cells, collagen, and other healing substances to an injury, cold blocks it from coming through, thus delaying healing. And something that is admittedly a little harder to grasp is the idea that "cold" can get trapped inside an injury, potentially leading to achey-ness and arthritic symptoms.
So, back to me and my story. I am a chronic ankle sprain-er. It started over 20 years ago with a sprain on the softball field, followed by sprains on the basketball court, stepping off a curb, and then falling down on trails and over and over again. This was also all before I understood the mechanism behind injury and healing. This was also before I learned the virtue of patience.
This was the typical me (and I know I'm not the only one!): I would get an injury, proceed to complain about how awful it was, yearn to get back to my sport, and even though it was not even close to 100%, I would find myself going on multi-mile runs and signing up for races. And within a few months, longer if I was lucky, I was usually flat on my face with another sprain.
And now I suffer the consequences. I have chronically weak ankles. Xrays have showed bone spur growth, I find it difficult to sit "Japanese style", I am forever resigned to wearing ankle support when I run, and worst of all they have started to ache deep inside. This aching really started up over a year ago and it was bearable but really uncomfortable. "Setting" the ankle by a practitioner didn't seem to help too much. And I have to admit, I was a bit lazy with the acupuncture needles. So, what happened? Well, I'm a big fan of socks. They're just cozy ya know? And this past winter, I was holed up a lot studying in cold libraries and sitting around in my cold house. I got into the habit of bundling myself up very well. When I started to pick up the running come February and April of this year, I noticed that my ankles didn't ache anymore. Nothing. At first I thought,"Great! I'm like superwoman or something". Either my body is in complete denial or I healed myself by doing nothing at all! Perfect.
Then the summer weather finally came through. It came a little late this year if you noticed. I started using my AC all the time. Well, guess what, my ankle started aching again. And I didn't put 2 & 2 together right away. It wasn't that simple. I started to apply a warming liniment on my ankle several times a day. (As my injury is very old, very chronic, and very stiff, I knew it needed a warming treatment to get it to loosen up.) Well, on one of those mornings after I applied it to my ankle, and wearing flats with no socks, I hopped into my car to head to work. It was then that I noticed that the AC was blasting right on my ankle. It was more noticeable because of the minty liniment I had just applied. I was stunned that the air was focused so directly on my gas pedal foot. I immediately re-directed the air, even going so far as to wrap that ankle when I drove, continued with the liniments, and took a wait and see attitude.
Well, 3 weeks later, after logging a fair amount of running mileage each week, the aching is gone. I didn't do anything else to treat it. In fact, in the last week or so I have even forgotten to apply the liniment. It totally makes sense, but I can't help but be pretty pleased at the change. I mean, come on, how easy!
So, that's my personal story. I know it's anecdotal, so you can take it or leave it. But it's not only me. I have treated hundreds of patients, and many have said that their recovery took a turn for the better when I told them "No ice!". It's simple. Give it a try.
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