This amazing guest post was written by Dr. Aram Nalbandyan! You should check out his website here!
Every health professional will agree that regular physical activity is a core component of a healthy body and a balanced mind. Not only does regular exercise manage weight and build strong muscles and bones, it also supports the optimal functioning of the immune and nervous systems (including the brain).
So…exercise is great!
On the other hand, is there such a thing as too much exercise? Indeed there is.
The concept of balance is the foundation of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), so this theme comes up a lot. Just as your qi should be balanced, so should your lifestyle. Your lifestyle includes everything from what you eat to what you wear, but we are going to focus on how you exercise.
Athletes tend to be at greater risk for overuse injuries, but anyone who exercises regularly can be susceptible them. There are quite a few factors to be taken into account, including the frequency of exercise and the type of exercise.
Generally speaking, anyone can get sore muscles simply by doing movements they are not used to doing, regardless of how fit they are. There is a difference between soreness and overuse.
What are “Overuse” Injuries?
Contracting muscle fibers pull on tendons (connective tissue) which are attached to your bones. This results in movement. Look at the back of your hand for a moment. Now, hold it up and spread your fingers as far apart as you can.
While visibility can depend on the structure of your hand, you likely see the tendons extending from your wrist down to you fingers. While keeping your fingers relatively spread, move your fingers as if you’re typing and keep your eyes on your tendons.
All of our tendons function similarly, but not close enough to the skin for us to see (and most attached to larger muscles and larger bones). Overuse injuries can affect not only your muscles, but your tendons and bones/joints as well.
Overuse is not just about how often you exercise. It is a matter of frequency, intensity, and technique. We push ourselves to get stronger. Physical effort and stress builds more efficient (and sometimes bigger) muscles and stronger bones through a damage and build process.
The physical stress is a signal to your body that it is not strong enough, so it responds with building muscle and bone density. But, what happens when we damage more than we can rebuild from? This is where overuse injuries come in.
The most common overuse injuries are muscle strains, tendonitis (particularly at joints), stress fractures, and microfractures. Things like tennis elbow, runner’s knee, and shin splints are particularly common.
A lot of athletes end up with overuse injuries at some point or another because they train to perfect a certain set of skills and movements.
For example, in Traditional Kung Fu training, we condition our bones (those in the forearms and shins especially). As the result of this training, we develop microfractures in the bone.
The microfracture tells the body that the bone is not strong enough, so when it rebuilds/heals it adds calcium and makes the bone denser. This is presuming that the bone is left to heal, of course.
What Causes an Overuse Injury and What Can I Do About It?
Here are some common causes of overuse injuries:
- An increase in the frequency and/or intensity of the exercise (commonly referred to as training error)
- Improper training technique (e.g. posture when deadlifting)
- Faulty coaching/training, which tends to lead to #2
- Inappropriate training equipment (e.g. running shoes)
The tricky thing with overuse injuries is that they happen over time. We know when we’ve sprained an ankle or when we’ve dislocated a shoulder, but it is not always easy to tell when it is a matter of overuse. This is especially true if we just think we’re “sore” from a more challenging workout.
So, based on the common causes of overuse injury mentioned above, what can we do about it?
- Rest and warm up should be incorporated in any training regimen, casual or otherwise.
- Include a rest day between workouts or alternate muscle groups. Ultimately, whole body movements provide the most benefit, but you must pace yourself.
- Know your limits. Your body will not be able to handle the stress if you do too much too soon, especially after an injury.
- Warm up and stretch (flexibility goes a long way in helping to prevent injury)
- Proper form is an absolute requirement. Learn how to do the movements correctly, whether it’s yoga or deadlifting, though this is particularly true for lifting weights. Added weight can exacerbate any injury.
- If you have a trainer, do your research. You can want to learn proper form, but if the person teaching you doesn’t know the proper form, you’re out of luck.
- Simply put, if you’re a runner make sure you have a decent pair of running shoes. The same goes for every other activity or sport. If you have flat feet, running without orthotics can make you more susceptible to overuse injury.
Herbs to the Rescue
A statement used and sometimes abused, “no pain, no gain” is true, but not in the way many people interpret it. We push ourselves physically. We challenge ourselves.
Sometimes it hurts, and we’re sore, and we’re tired, but we find our balance. We listen to our bodies and rest when we need to. There is a significant difference between soreness pain and injury pain.
For thousands of years, the Chinese have used herbs to mitigate such pain.
If you have an overuse injury like runner’s knee or tennis elbow, there are a few things you can do. Rest, firstly, but medications/painkillers can do more harm than good in many cases. Natural pain relief is the way to go.
There are a number of Chinese herbs that not only help with pain relief, but also help along the healing process by boosting circulation in the affected area, which reduces inflammation:
Turmeric (Jiang Huang) – Increases blood circulation, helps diminish blood and Qi stasis, promotes digestion, and relieves pain.
Gardenia (Zhi Zi) – Helps cool down blood, reducing inflammation; promotes blood circulation and interrupts blood stasis.
Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi) – Promotes sweating to help the body naturally eliminate toxins, boosts Yang, and improves Qi flow.
Safflower (Hong Hua) – Stimulates blood circulation and alleviates blood stasis; helps women regulate menstruation and eases pain.
Myrrh (Mo Yao) – Encourages increased blood flow to relieve pain, reduces inflammation and swelling, and boosts the body’s ability to generate new tissue.
Frankincense (Ru Xiang) – Encourages blood flow and reduces pain, fights infection, decreases inflammation and increases tissue regeneration for wounds.
Sparganium (San Leng) – Alleviates blood stasis and encourages flow of Qi; helps remove stagnated Qi to control pain.
Dragon Blood (Xue Jie) – Helps alleviate pain and stop bleeding; great for reducing swelling and promoting growth of new tissue.
Curcuma Rhizoma (E-Zhu) – Promotes the movement of Qi, which contributes to the alleviation of pain.
Creating the right combination of these herbs is the tricky part. This is where natural products like X-Jow come in handy. The right concentration of the right herbs can have great benefits.
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