Heal Soft Tissue Injuries with Acupuncture

  • Tara Andresen

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A Guide to Healing Soft Tissue Injuries with Acupuncture

Perhaps the fatal flaw of western medicine is its inability to treat soft tissue injuries effectively. Its main strengths are the twin pillars of surgery and medication. But with a soft tissue injury, pharmaceuticals often only mask the problem, and surgery can sometimes do more harm than good.

Fortunately, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been successfully dealing with soft tissue injuries for thousands of years. Acupuncture, a process that involves inserting thin needles into the body to promote healing, has shown some promise effectively treating these injuries. Even in clinical trials (although further study is still required).

Acupuncture helps heal the body by:

  • improving circulation
  • restoring the flow of blocked qi to injured tissues
  • reducing—even blocking—pain signals in the nervous system
  • reducing muscle spasms
  • promoting healthy organ functions
  • stimulating the release of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers

What are soft tissue injuries?

As the name suggests, a soft tissue injury occurs when you damage some of your body’s soft tissues. This usually involves muscles, ligaments, or tendons. The most common soft tissue injuries are sprains, strains, contusions, and tendinitis. Signs of a soft tissue injury could include pain, swelling, or bruising, and might prevent you from using the injured body part as you’re used to.

For instance, an injured tendon could lead to reduced flexibility in the affected limbs. It could stop you from doing activities you once took for granted.

Soft tissue injuries can occur all over the body in a variety of tissues. The most commonly injured tissues include:

  • ligaments of the knee, wrist, hand, and vertebrae (spinal column)
  • muscles of the arms, legs, and abdomen
  • tendons of the knees, feet, lower legs, shoulders, elbows
  • nerves of the shoulders, elbows, hands, ankles, feet, and head
  • the soft, inner tissue of bones like the femur, humerus, ribs, metatarsals, and metacarpals
  • cartilage of the knees, spine, and hip

Acupuncture for sprains

Sprains usually result from a joint being turned, rolled, or twisted the wrong way, often pushing it beyond its normal range of movement. The result is a torn ligament. The most well-known of these injuries is the sprained ankle, but they also commonly affect the wrist.

Minor sprains can heal themselves in a few days sometimes. More severe sprains may require surgical correction.

Sprains can result from athletic activities, but you could also easily sprain an ankle tripping over something. Regardless of how the injury occurs, the fact remains that the resulting pain and tenderness can severely hamper your daily activities.

The most commonly prescribed treatments for a sprain include rest, elevation, and ice compresses to take the swelling down. And while these techniques work well in the short term, you may need other methods to rehabilitate a persistent injury.

Slow to heal sprains often reveal themselves through chronic pain, stiffness, weakness, limited mobility, and poor flexibility. Acupuncture offers an alternative method to treat pain and swelling to help speed up your recovery.

From the perspective of TCM, sprains result from trauma interrupting the flow of blood and qi throughout the body. Since these substances are vital to our health and well-being, it’s essential to restore that flow. Acupuncture releases this blockage.

From a western medical viewpoint, acupuncture is releasing endorphins to relieve your pain, improving your circulation to speed up the healing process, and reducing the risk of muscle spasm.

Acupuncture for strains

A strain is similar to a sprain but involves a muscle and/or a tendon rather than a ligament. Strains are commonly known as pulled or torn muscles.

Common indicators that you have a strain include:

  • pain
  • impaired muscle function
  • muscle weakness, spasm
  • contusion/bruising
  • inflammation, swelling

Depending on severity, a strain could be anything from a minor annoyance to a debilitating source of pain. Whether your injury results from a sports-related mishap or repetitive strain, acupuncture can help with pain and swelling. This allows the body to repair itself naturally and return to a regular, full range of motion.

Strains can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). They can be caused by over-stretching muscles/tendons, twisting too far, pulling too much, improper lifting, or any other misuse or overuse of the muscles.

In TCM, a strain disrupts the energy flow through the affected area. This causes stagnation and pain. Acupuncture gets that energy flowing again, improving the circulatory system and letting it do its job. You can rely on acupuncture alone to restore health to the affected area or use it in conjunction with other therapies.

Acupuncture for bruises/contusions

Bruising is the result of blood pooling outside of its regular blood vessels. It’s often the result of capillaries and venules being damaged by trauma which allows blood to leak out into its surrounding tissues. Bruises remain visible until the blood is either reabsorbed or cleared out by the immune system.

Since acupuncture improves circulation, it can help with tender, deep bruises or contusions. The treatment eases pain, swelling, and inflammation. By stimulating blood and lymphatic flow through the injury, healing nutrients repair damaged tissue while waste products are carried away.

Besides acupuncture, you can also take advantage of TCM’s herbal medicine. Arnica, known as the herb for bruising, can help contusions in two ways. First, taken internally, this homeopathic remedy heals bruises from the inside out. Second, as an ointment applied topically to the injury, it aids healing and relieves pain. For full effect, smear on the ointment, wrap the area in cling wrap, and leave it overnight.

Martial artists—no strangers to getting bruised—tend to favor some liniments offered by TCM to reduce bruising. One popular remedy is called Dit Da Jow—or Hit Medicine. Others include Zheng Gu Shui and Po Sum On. These liniments use herbs that encourage blood circulation, dispersing the stagnant blood that has accumulated in the bruise. Such herbal remedies can offer much-needed relief if applied regularly in the days immediately following your injury.

Acupuncture for tendinitis

Tendinitis (or tendonitis) is the inflammation of a tendon as the result of an acute injury. People usually refer to their tendinitis by the body part it affects. For instance, if it were to affect your Achilles tendon, you’d have Achilles tendinitis.

Tendinitis is a common affliction among the athletic, or anyone regularly engaged in repetitive, forceful motions. Tendons get less flexible with age, leading to older people being more likely to develop tendinitis. This inflammation is often accompanied by dull pain, mild swelling, and tenderness.

If you develop tendinitis, it’s imperative you rest the afflicted joint. But if symptoms persist and the condition interferes with your day-to-day living, seek professional help. Acupuncture is one course of treatment you can pursue, either alone or in concert with another therapy.

By decreasing inflammation in the injured tendon, acupuncture helps you deal with the pain and promotes healing. If left unchecked, the problem could become chronic. You can reduce the risk of this happening by starting a series of acupuncture treatments as soon as possible after being injured.

Once you’re on the road to recovery, you will receive guidance in proper body mechanics to help prevent further injury. This may come with a series of exercises to help strengthen the affected area.

Is acupuncture the right treatment for your soft tissue injury?

While western medicine may not be very successful in treating soft tissue injuries, many people have found acupuncture to be very effective. Acupuncture is becoming more mainstream in western society every day, with the fees for acupuncture treatments now covered by many extended health care plans.

Check with your employer or your health insurance provider to see if you’re eligible for this coverage. Then book an appointment with Dr. Tara Andersen to see what acupuncture can do for you and your soft tissue injury.