Q: I am a 51-year-old man. My muscles and tendons at the elbow and shoulder are easily injured after carrying or pulling slightly heavy things. When this happens, I would require many weeks of rest before I am fully recovered.
I did not do weights training in my younger years. Would this help and is it safe? So far, it appears to make my tendons feel worse as they are easily injured even after a light training session.
I have a history of eczema and have taken plenty of chlorpheniramine (an antihistamine). Are there any alternative remedies to improve the strength of my muscles and tendons?
A: Frequent injuries at the shoulder and elbow areas are usually seen in musculoskeletal conditions such as tendonitis, arthritis, frozen shoulder, cervical spondylosis and spinal stenosis.
You may want to consult your physician or doctor for a proper diagnosis. He may order an X-ray or a magnetic resonance imaging scan to identify any structural problem with your shoulder and elbow.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), muscle and tendon weaknesses are likely due to deficiencies in the functions of your kidneys, liver and spleen.
Other reasons include poor blood circulation, insufficient qi (vital energy) and blood and pathogenic factors such as wind, heat, cold and dampness.
WEAK BONES AND LIGAMENTS
In TCM, the kidneys govern the bones while the liver governs the ligaments and tendons at our joints.
Any malfunction in these organs will cause our bones and tendons to weaken.
This is perhaps why your shoulder and elbow are easily injured.
Such kidney and liver deficiencies can arise when a person has a weak constitution, chronic ailments, mood swings, anxiety and blood loss from surgery.
Other accompanying symptoms may include pain, deformed joints, muscle shrinkage and a sore pain in the lower back, which may also feel bereft of strength.
The spleen, on the other hand, governs the muscles around the joints. It also converts nutrients into qi and blood.
But a weak spleen would convert nutrients into phlegm and dampness.
When phlegm accumulates in the body over a prolonged period of time, poor blood circulation may occur.
This would trigger pain in the shoulder and elbow, along with swollen, dull and hardened skin; a localised "prickling" pain in the muscles; swollen eyelids and numbness in the limbs.
The spleen can be weakened through several means, including smoking, alcohol intake and eating too much cold, spicy and oily food.
LACK OF QI AND BLOOD
Injuries, such as tendon tears, that did not heal completely can also cause blockage of qi and blood in the body. This can result in poor blood flow that obstructs the normal movement of your shoulder or elbow.
Another possible reason for your problem is a lack of qi and blood.
This is because the tendons, fascia (fibrous tissue) and ligaments rely on the nourishment of blood.
Ageing, chronic ailments and a weak constitution can diminish one's volume of qi and blood. When this happens, the person may have intermittent pain at the shoulder and elbow with difficulty in moving.
One may also suffer from soreness and numbness of the legs, lower back or knees, along with fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness.
Another problem from a lack of qi and blood is that it allows external pathogenic factors, such as wind, cold and dampness, to invade the body easily. This would then trigger excruciating pain in the shoulder and elbow, as well as fever and thirst.
This pain would be aggravated by the cold and alleviated with warmth.
Alternatively, if heat and dampness manage to invade the body, the shoulder and elbow pain would be accompanied with some redness and inflammation. The person may also get a fever.
HERBS TO EXPEL PATHOGENS
You may consider using Chinese herbal medicine (both oral and applied), acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping therapy to help improve your condition.
Moxibustion involves burning a small herb above acupuncture points to help healing, while cupping involves using fire and cups to create a vacuum on the skin to enhance blood and qi circulation.
Chinese herbs such as the incised notoptergium rhizome, doubleteeth pubescent angelica root, divaricate saposhnikvia root and common monkshood mother root are used to dispel the wind, dampness and cold from the body.
Heat and dampness can be managed with the kudzuvine root, weeping forsythia gapsule, rice bean, talc and cape jasmine fruit. These help to reduce any pain and swelling.
To boost your liver, kidneys, muscles and tendons, try the medicinal cyathula root, Chinese taxillus herb, Himalayan teasel root and cassia bark.
Herbs to strengthen your spleen and increase qi and blood include the Indian bread, codonopsis root and processed rehmannia root.
Blood circulation can be enhanced with the help of peach seed, safflower, common burreed tuber and suberect spatholobus stem. These herbs also help to improve blood circulation to the affected areas.
Besides taking herbs, you should keep your shoulder and elbow warm, especially at night.
You should also eat high-protein, high-fibre and easily digestible food.
Abstain from cold drinks and food that is raw, spicy or oily. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
Avoid emotional stress and anxiety. A light massage or heat pads applied on your shoulder and elbow will help to enhance your qi and blood circulation.
Exercise that causes extreme pain or discomfort is considered unhealthy and may even cause permanent damage to the body.
However, exercise does help to improve muscle tone and bone strength. Given your situation, you may wish to get started with an activity that suits your fitness and endurance levels.
Some options are taiji, pilates, yoga, brisk walking and swimming.
Stretch your muscles before any workout to avert potential injuries.
MS LIM LAY BENG, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic at The Adelphi
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