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First aid for summer sports injuries

when to use ice, heat, or acupuncture on WellandGoodNYC.comIt’s injury season! Noah Rubinstein, an acupuncturist with a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice in Union Square, sees a lot of wounded weekend warriors this time of year. (Good luck to all the New Yorkers running the Brooklyn Half this weekend. We hope you don’t need this article.)

The most common cause of injuries? Overdoing it and not warming up, according to Rubinstein. Despite the recent brouhaha over whether or not warm-ups are useful, acupuncturists still recommend them—and the following injury treatment practices.

When to use cold?
On new injuries and swelling. Your body’s healing response to an injury is inflammation—these represent a blockage in TCM, says Rubinstein. “When extra blood and healing fluids swell up a just-sprained ankle, it literally reduces movement.” Ice slows the swelling and helps reduce pain in this early stage.

How long do you use cold?
Up to 72 hours, but Rubinstein cautions against getting hooked on it. “I have new patients who ice after every single workout. We slowly get that area warmed up, healing, and in motion without it,” he says.

hot water bottles
Nurse your injuries with a water bottle

When to use heat?
TCM favors warmth as a treatment in general, explains Rubinstein, as in compresses or hot water bottles. “Theory says we thrive in warmth. Think of chi (the body’s life force or energy) as maple syrup—it flows better when warm. That’s how the body optimally functions, and it’s why we warm up before we workout and don’t ice first.”

What about arnica?
“I don’t have a tremendous double-blind research that stone-cold proves it works, but I know a lot of people like arnica and Traumeel,” says Rubinstein, who makes Chinese medicine linaments with po sum on, a warming oil that can be rubbed on tight muscles, or white flower oil for injuries that respond to cold right after a workout.

When to use Advil?
It’s probably good for aches and pains of overdoing it, and general muscle aches. But it doesn’t take steps toward the healing of tissue, says Rubinstein. “New Yorkers have to remember it’s not treatment for the injury. It’s a one-trick pony.”

What can acupuncture do?
It helps reduce inflammation, spasm, and some of the pain, and it improves circulation.  All of these expedite the healing process. Plus it treats existing, longer-term injuries, says Rubinstein. “I have patients whose knees hurt. In 95 percent of them, their knees are fine. The pain is due to an injury elsewhere, like low back or hip. The point is your entire body mechanics can compensate around an injury to avoid pain. The more we more we repeat and build on this compensation we risk creating scar tissue and adhesions. It throws up a roadblock in the body, which acupuncturists and bodyworkers look for.”