Natural Living: RICE or MEAT — which is better for healing fractures?
This argument has nothing to do with the merits of vegetarian or carnivorous diets but more with the acronyms used to remember how to treat various traumatic musculoskeletal injuries.
The acronym used since its inception in 1978 to prompt caregivers and patients in their healing processes was RICE.
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, and this was the doctrine followed consistently for years. The understanding was that the body needed time and rest to heal properly, but unfortunately was supported by very little actual data. Newer evidence today leads many to believe that RICE will help with the immediate pain, but will also serve to delay the inflammation that is crucial to the healing process.
When tissue is damaged, the body sends myriad cells and fluids to the injury site, not unlike our response to a motor vehicle accident, to help mitigate the effects of the damage, repair injured tissue, and clean up the waste products created in the process. Much of the waste products in our bodies are transported out via the lymphatic system, which requires muscle contraction to move lymph fluid back to the circulatory system where the “garbage” can be filtered out through the kidneys and liver. In this light, one can see how restricted movement can hinder the recovery process.
A newer acronym used to help direct the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries is MEAT.
Movement, Exercise, Analgesia, and Treatment appears to be gaining favor in the Western medical community. Movement is a key factor in this new thinking as well as in the old thinking of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The MEAT acronym contends that allowing movement helps promote the flow of fluids and cells into and out of the injured area while allowing a minimal load on the tissue to help it grow in a more organized way along the direction of tension.
TCM contends that pain is caused by stagnation of blood and, subsequently, energy through an injured area. Therefore, TCM herbs and acupuncture treatments frequently are used to promote the movement of blood through the area, not only to bring in healing products, but also to allow the by-products of healing to be moved away thereby decreasing swelling and alleviating pain.
The Exercise component of MEAT is aimed at creating increased circulation, but the patient must be considerate of their pain level and not overdoing the exercise to avoid further injury. A TCM practitioner will be able to help provide appropriate exercises to further stimulate circulation, direction of tension healing, and improving overall strength. Your pain will dictate how far and how strongly to move.
The old joke, “Doctor, it hurts when I move my arm. Then don’t move your arm,” holds a lot more truth than we tend to acknowledge. Granted, we all want to be able to move our injured extremity, but we should not ignore our body when it tells us to stop.
Analgesia is the use of pain control medications to alleviate the discomfort associated with an injury. In the Western medical field, analgesics can come in the form of many different types of medications from NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to opioid analgesics. NSAIDs may help reduce the swelling around an injury but, as mentioned, that swelling is a result of the healing process. Reducing the swelling is OK if we don’t reduce the flow of fluids in and out of the area. TCM herbs do this very well without the liver toxicity of most NSAIDs or the addictive and sedative properties of opiates.
The Treatment portion of MEAT provides for the appropriate treatment of an injury. This is usually contingent upon the nature and extent of the injury and the consensus between the care provider and the patient as to what will work best. Oftentimes the sooner a patient can be seen the quicker the recovery.
While the merits of using TCM to aid in the healing process are truly beneficial, a fracture is an injury which can lead to some very severe complications. Therefore, any suspected fracture should be evaluated in an emergency room where imaging can rule out any life threats. Once stabilized, patients would do well to seek out further medical attention from a licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine to begin their healing process.