Acupuncture for the Ice Age

Traditional Chinese Medicine does not advocate icing a sprain

Traditional Chinese Medicine does not advocate icing a sprain

It was back in  1982 when  John McDonald was teaching me acupuncture  in Sydney, that he told us students in class, “ Don’t tell your patients to ice their ankle sprain”.

We all had been successfully brainwashed at that time to believe that icing a sprain was the norm.

However, it is not the norm according to Traditional Chinese Medicine to put ice on an inflamed area.

In 1999, I attended a Sports Medicine conference in Queentown, New Zealand. Two physiotherapists presented a research paper and spilled out the facts, that icing does nothing for a sprain. I clearly remember sitting next to a prominent western medical sports medicine specialist who said “Well what can we do if we don’t do that, I am still going to do it”.

In 2016, Dr Mirkin a Harvard graduate and sports medicine specialist continues to try to educate the masses and cites various references pertaining to the fact that icing is not the treatment of choice for a sprain with inflammation.

In fact Dr Mirkin coined the term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) in 1978 and is now telling us the opposite. 

Why does a swelling get hot? 

The hot feeling is part of the inflammation process where the body  sends inflammatory cells there to heal the injured area. If you ice it, it stops the body from producing a hormone called Insulin-like growth Factor (IGF-1) which then slows down the recovery rate. 

What else slows down the natural recovery rate of injuries?

Most of the treatments that will be prescribed in the modern medical clinical setting! 

  • Ibuprofen
  • Cortisone type medications
  • Immune suppressants 
  • Cold packs 

How does traditional acupuncture deal with traumatic injuries, acute swellings and so forth?

We ask Alan Jansson, who specialises in traditional Japanese acupuncture and moxibustion techniques taught to him by Ikeda Sensei. Alan practises on Australia’s Gold Coast and in Brisbane and has treated many top sports people including the Brisbane Lions. “Much to the surprise of my patients I use heat instead of ice to bring down swelling. There is a technique which in Japanese is called chinetsu (heat perception moxibustion) where small pieces of the herb mugwort are heated on  the skin and quickly removed once the heat perception is felt by the patient. This actually discharges the heat and reduces the swelling!“. In addition, there are specific acupuncture needling techniques to  treat bruises and sprains. Alan says “The area is needled using quick insertion and withdrawal and these needle techniques use very fine needles and they are only inserted to a shallow level” 

What about if there is bruising, can acupuncture be done?

Alan Jansson further explains “Another technique known as moxa head needling is where a small amount of the herb mugwort is placed on the end of the needle handle and lit to produce a slow and gradual heat. This technique is used to draw out to the surface any deeper seated bruising“. Many high profile sports people seek  Alan who predominately uses these traditional acupuncture and moxibustion techniques. 

Where can I go to read more about research and the ice question in sprains?

One of my former teachers John McDonald, who now has a PhD has written an article on this topic and can be accessed here. 

But don’t be surprised though if in ten years time modern medicine practitioners still advocate icing a sprain. Remember it took western medicine 400 years before they finally stopped prescribing arsenic, lead and mercury. 

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About Heiko Lade

Hi, I'm Heiko Lade - qualified acupuncturist at The Acupuncture Clinic in Hastings, New Zealand. If you would like to make an appointment for a consultation and treatment, please contact me.


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