The Importance of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for Traumatic Injury Recovery in Children

One of the little-known “secrets” of East Asian Medicine is that it can speed recovery from traumatic injuries.  While it is commonly known throughout the Western world that acupuncture can alleviate pain — either chronic pain or acute pain — the cultural mainstream still hasn’t recognized that acupuncture and herbal medicine can actually help injuries heal faster.  This is something that martial artists have known for centuries, and many Western elite athletes have recently discovered.  Indeed, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and other Chinese medicine techniques are a closely regarded secret of many top-performing sports teams and Olympians.

While conventional Western Medicine excels at tending to injuries that need emergency or surgical care, Eastern Medicine is particularly effective at treating injuries during the post-acute stages of injury. While anyone with an injury can benefit from reducing the recovery time from a bruise, burn, sprain, bone break, or skin wound, it is even more imperative that children seek post-acute recovery care.

Why is this? Children are still growing, so an injury such as a bone break or a stress fracture can actually impair their development if it heals too slowly. For an athlete, a traumatic injury can mean the end of his or her entire athletic career — even before college. Failure to seek recovery care after a childhood injury can also lead to a lifelong impairment or chronic pain. I know plenty of adults with chronic knee, back, neck, or shoulder pain that started with a sports injury during high school. Chances are, you probably do, too.

Oriental Medicine offers a variety of “tools” to help kids heal from injuries faster. This includes not only acupuncture, but also shonishin, cupping, moxibustion, herbs to be taken internally, herbs to be applied directly to the site of injury, and even nutritional therapies. The specific treatment varies according to the stage of the injury.

There are 3 distinct stages of injury:

  • Stage 1 — the first 2 – 7 days in which there is a lot of swelling and inflammation
  • Stage 2 — the next 2 – 3 weeks in which swelling and pain persist at a lesser intensity
  • Stage 3 —  there might be some achiness or stiffness.

During the first stage, plasters are used to relieve the pain and swelling. As in Western Medicine, the focus of the treatment is in cooling the area of injury. During the second stage, compresses are used to alleviate pain and speed recovery. The third stage of treatment is focused on warming the area and stimulating blood flow with acupuncture, moxa, herbs, and liniments.

Throughout each stage of an injury, good nutrition is critical. Many athletes follow a Paleo or Primal diet (as described by authors Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, and Chris Kresser), while others simply adhere to the principle of Just Eat Real Food. Shopping at farmer’s markets, eating a diet rich in organic or locally-grown fruits and veggies, grass-fed or pasture-raised meats, eggs, a small amount of nuts and seeds, and soups and stews made with real bone broth helps ensure that the vital micronutrients needed for recovery are available when the body needs them. It can also help prevent unnecessary injuries and slow recovery.

Some important foods to include in the diet when healing from a new or old injury are fatty fish, turmeric (a common spice found in Indian curries), ginger, green leafy vegetables, organic berries, pineapple, onions and garlic, and tart cherries, which are all anti-inflammatory foods. At least 1 gram of high quality animal protein per pound of bodyweight per day is also crucial. Meats that are slowly cooked in bone stock are easier for the body to assimilate into healthy tissue, and bone stocks have the added benefit of supplying amino acids and collagen needed for optimal tissue repair.

Easy Slow Cooker Bone Stock Recipe

  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 1 chopped medium onion
  • several cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sea salt
  • 3 lbs of beef bones
  • water

Place all ingredients into a 6-quart slow cooker. Turn on the slow cooker at the lowest setting and cook for 8 – 10 hours. It should smell amazing when it’s done! Feel free to add other ingredients to make a stew, or add a few Chinese tonic herbs to make a tonifying bone stock. Drink at least a cup of broth every day during healing.