Sports Injuries & Recovery from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

By Sofie Ringsten /

Sports Injuries & Recovery from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

Sports and physical movement have always been a part of my life: From elite wresting at a young age, to avid running, paddle boarding and yoga in between, I've always been active.  And with all this physical activity comes injuries. But unlike my days before becoming a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner where I'd ice injuries and down the ibuprofen, today I take a much more natural approach when sports related injuries strike.  

It was actually an injury that brought me to pursue my path to becoming a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner: In my former work as a police officer, I lived through a life changing injury event in the shape of whiplash.  This not only motivated me to change careers (and also pursue teaching yoga), but it also taught me that injuries like whiplash aren't chronic if you integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine in your life.

Sports Induced Injury?  Keep Your Qi Moving  

Injuries do happen, which as athletes we know too well. It's the risk we take to be able to do what we love. And when it does, we need to make sure that these inner movements of Qi, blood and fluids keep moving, even though we might be immobilized on some body parts. Because movement is life, circulation, and function. 

And what's my number one recommendation to stop messing-up one's flow?  Stop with the ice.   

sports injury

Lesson One: Stop with the Ice

Ice contracts, and is very good to use in the freezer to store meat. Now imagine if you put ice on your body. A body is comprised of active, living cells and other tissues, with Qi and fluids constantly in circulation. When ice is introduced onto the surface of the body, the blood, Qi, water, and everything else will go into contraction. 

When it's cold weather outside we sometimes tense up and get stiff. The same will happen internally when we put ice on injuries. It might feel good, but the underlying contraction is not good, since it will hinder and stop circulation. 

Ice will hinder and stop circulation of Qi

Think of it another way: Imagine a river with water running smoothly, that now has turned into a slow-moving pond where no flow is happening. The result of this blockage of Qi and fluids might end up in chronic stiffness and lack of circulation, leading to lack of function. No flow, no function. And every time it's cold or damp outside, the injured area might hurt more. This is because of the cold, or dampness, that is stuck in there. 

herbs

"Icing an Injury" Without Ice

With an acute and swollen injury, we do want to cool it down, but not at the risk messing up the body's inflammation response. From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are ways to cool down the injured area without creating a blockage of Qi, blood, and water, through the application of cooling herbs that helps decrease the swelling, while simultaneously helping circulation. 

My favorite formula for this is San Huang San, also called “Three Yellow Powder”, which is a combination of three cooling herbs that effectively alleviate pain and inflammation in injuries. The herbs are used externally, and unlike the ice pack, help to break blood stasis, reduce heat and pain, and accelerates the natural healing process. In my opinion, every athlete should have these herbs at home. 

du huo ji sheng tang

An Herbal Formula for Recovery, and Prevention

We must also think about movement on the inside, even though we might not be able to move the injured body part at the beginning stage of healing. Acupuncture and internal herbal medicine are amazing when it comes to moving blood and Qi, as well as nourishing the organs responsible for Qi and blood production. And the best part with the formula I´m about to present to you – it works for preventions as well, which is one of the things I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine.

It isn’t just a medicine for sickness and injuries, but a medicine for health. This formula's strength lies very much in prevention, to strengthen and nourish our bodies, and minds. 

The formula I love and recommend for my clients is DAO Labs Joint Vitality, inspired by the classic Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang. This formula is something I wish for all athletes.  And though I haven’t said it yet, remember that we're all athletes, one way or another. 

This formula is power in a jar.

joint vitality

Joint Vitality is blood nourishing, spleen strengthening and sinew nourishing. In my article discussing the connection between organs and sports performance, I outlined how the spleen controls the movement of blood to our muscles, and how the liver holds and releases blood which impacts our tendons and ligaments. Joint Vitality has a remarkable impact on it all.

It also unblocks the channels. Now this means that the stagnation and blockage of Qi and blood I was mentioning, that happens if we ice our injuries, can be unblocked with these herbs, almost like they clear up our energy channels and increase flow. 

As George Mumford says, “life is a marathon, we´re all athletes”.  So, whether you're a walker, runner, elite athlete, weekend warrior or something else, we all can benefit from including this herbal formula, to strengthen and nourish our blood, which will strengthen and nourish our joints, muscles, and bones, in a beautifully holistic and integrative way. 

swimming athlete

And remember: We want flow  

So, if you´re dealing with an old injury that doesn’t really heal, this formula is my recommendation. If you´re not injured, but you want to stay healthy and strong and boost joint and bone health, this formula is also for you. If you´re like me, in your 40's and planning to stay in your sport as long as you can with no joint pain, this formula is self-care deluxe. And as a woman in sports, I cannot recommend other women enough to incorporate this formula into your life, to prevent arthritis and such, that can increase with peri-menopause and menopause transition. 

Some Final Thoughts that Brings this All Together

No system works on its own. Chinese medicine is all about strengthening systems, and not isolated body parts. It’s all about fluids and flow – even in stillness. Let these herbs work in silence, while you go do what you love, whether that´s swimming, surfing, or playing tennis. Best part? You can use it in your every day morning coffee!

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A practitioner of Yin Yoga and acupuncture, and a pioneer of SUP Yoga, Sofie Ringsten's path has also led her through elite athlete status in the martial arts, twelve years as a street cop, a stint of ultra-marathoning, surfing, and motherhood. Her journey inspired a keen interest in resolving pain, whether physical or emotional. Sofie splits her time between Sweden and the Maldives. You can learn more about Sofie at sofieringsten.com.

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