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How Acupuncture Helps Improve Acute Injury Recovery

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

You just sprained a ligament in your ankle, knee, wrist, thumb, or other extremity. The homework you’ve been given by your trainer, coach, doctor, or urgent care provider is to RICE (rest, ice, compress, and elevate) and take an NSAID for pain. Even with this protocol, some people don’t return to full capacity for 2 weeks, 4 weeks, or longer. Here’s 3 reasons why acupuncture can help speed up your recovery:

  1. Reduces Swelling - Acupuncture increase microcirculation which does one of two things 1) reduce swelling and 2) increase metabolic recovery. When you sprain a ligament one of the first things that occurs is swelling, usually within minutes. Increasing circulation to the affected area helps to flush out the fluid (swelling) by increasing venous return of blood (fluids) to travel out of the damaged area.

  2. Increases Metabolic Recovery - Bringing blood flow to a damaged area helps bring nourishment to the injured tissue which increases the metabolic processes of tissue recovery. The trauma from injury causes the superficial layers around the ligament to bleed, which is why you often get a bruise. Once the bleeding stops and the bruise results, this is a sign that there is built up, dead, coagulated blood that’s stagnant in the area of damage. This stagnant blood doesn’t flow because it’s now outside of a vessels obstructing the surrounding tissue and can lengthen the recovery process. Acupuncture promotes fresh new blood to come in while helping to flush the old, coagulated blood out by promoting microcirculation.

  3. Alleviates Pain - A physical trauma causes congestion in the deeper layers of the muscles which increases pain and discomfort. There’s an increase of fluid brought on by the immediate inflammatory response to the site of injury causing swelling. Acupuncture helps to release this deep muscular constraint to help the surrounding tissues relax while speeding up the inflammatory process, thus reducing pain. Acupuncture also works with the nervous system to change the body's perception of pain, especially in an acute setting.

Getting acupuncture treatment as soon as the injury occurs (same day, next day, or few days after) can significantly speed up your recovery, alleviate your discomfort, and reduce the time away from your desired activity. The photo below compares an ankle sprain hours after injury to 1.5 days after injury with just one acupuncture treatment. A dramatic reduction in swelling and pain was achieved.

As an athlete, missing 2-4 weeks (or more) of training can be devastating to your physical progress. The quicker the recovery the less training will be lost. As a parent, caretaker, child, or anyone who works on their feet or with their hands, sprains can impair your ability to work, take care of your family, and enjoy activities.

Next time a sprain happens to you or someone you know, go see your local acupuncturist ASAP - the sooner after the incident the better so you can get a jump start on the healing process. Don't let a stubborn sprain take weeks of your life or activity away!



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