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External Therapy in TCM for Variable Pain and Inflammation

external treatment

external treatment using herbal medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), external therapy is an important part of a treatment program and has its own special value. Sometimes, it can achieve amazing results, and it is irreplaceable.

 I didn’t have a profound understanding of external therapy until last year when I broke my arm in East Tibet. On the top of the mountain in Jiuzhai valley, I tripped and fell down heavily. At that time, I couldn’t get any medical help,  and could only use the local herbal patch, a bandage and mountain snow to bind around my elbow.

My son and I had to take an eight-hour bus trip from a mountain area to get to Chengdu in Sichuan province. My whole arm and hand were black and blue and swollen. We went back to Beijing from Chengdu, I got the X-ray showing that I had fractured my  elbow and had a severe tear in my triceps. I visited the institute of traditional Chinese medicine, and they told me surgery was necessary.

Due to an insurance issue, I couldn’t get surgery in Beijing, so a doctor gave me some herb medicine pills for pain relief and anti-inflammation. As an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist with pharmacist background, I didn’t take any western medicine during the whole procedure. I wanted to see if herbal medicine  could help with at least part of the recovery from the injury.  Well, it certainly did.

It was more than 20 days later when I came back to the US. I did need surgery to repair the triceps and bone in order for my muscle strength to come back. The surgery was very successful and I suffered very little.  For pain,  I only took one oxycodone. After the surgery, my cast was removed after a few weeks and  I found I could not bend my arm to my shoulder. My whole injured right arm, which is my predominant arm,  was rigid. Even with physical therapy the range of movement and flexibility improved very slowly.

I thought of herbal external therapy of TCM, so I started to use it every day. Each time after I did the herbal compress I felt improvement almost immediately. The range of the movement and flexibility improved quickly. I got back to work and daily activities.

From my own experience, I started to use more external treatment for patients in my practice. And it has achieved very good results. I started collecting from experts different external herb therapy formulas and began to use them  for some patients who had  already tried other therapies without success.

For example, my contractor’s niece, a young lady from California, had severe heel and foot pain. She had a lot of difficulty going up or down stairs, even just a few steps would cause a lot pain. She tried a western treatment for almost six months, even though the medicine made her stomach hurt. She quit her job and came out east to see her uncle. While I was listening to her describing the symptoms, I looked at her foot. It was very swollen and discolored. She asked me if I could help. I felt she had tried so many treatments already that she didn’t trust that mine would work, but I just told her that although I couldn’t guarantee the result I would try my best. I gave her a prescription for topical use.

One month later, she and her uncle came to see me and told me she was 90% better. She no longer had any problem going up and down stairs or walking. She said the other foot started to hurt,  and I told her to continue use the prescription. When I saw her again three weeks ago, she had totally recovered. She can even now help her uncle with some construction work . This year,  in addition to the acupuncture treatments, I recommended the use of  external treatment for patients to do at home for  different parts of the body, shoulder, knee, back, neck, etc. All achieved good results.

From all my clinical experiences, I realize that external herbal treatments in TCM can be an important part of a treatment program, especially since they are safe, effective, and not very expensive.

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