Pain and Injury Treatment

by on May 21, 2012

in Injuries

In this fourth part in his Series on Pain Craig Hart takes a look at different approaches to treating pain and injury. Actually this is a subject that could be written about endlessly because there are so many options!

If you have been following the articles so far (1, 2, 3), we have touched on some of my historical pain and my good fortune in finding some of the real causes for my “issues”. We have also looked a bit a diet and supplements and how what you eat may help your body to prevent injuries happening in the first place.

Let’s get real though — you’re reading this because you participate in a martial art AND you are over 40 years old! The reality is, if your mind is into martial arts, your body has to go along with it and sooner or later, hard training, competition or a tough grading is likely to result in an injury or at the very least, some niggling discomfort. (It seems life is not without irony, as after I wrote most of this article, I managed to get a fractured rib in sparring training the other night — so I have a new understanding of what pain is 🙂 )

I have been fortunate with regards to health professionals in the last decade or so and have found a list of contacts of great people who are both skilled and extremely effective.

From a very young age, my opinion and view of “the family GP” was never one of great fondness. It seemed that our family GP could cure everything with a prescription for pain killers of some description and it really frustrated me that there never seemed to be any effort to understand the root cause of the complaint I presented with. I remember in my late teens having left home and injuring my knee at work, the shock and disbelief from my parents when I told them I wasn’t going to see “our” doctor because “all he would do is give me painkillers”.

Instead, I found an acupuncturist who was associated with a Chinese martial arts school that I attended for a while. I vividly remember literally having to haul myself up the stairs to the clinic clutching the hand rail for support on every step (my knee was excruciatingly sore) and then skipping down the stairs after the treatment totally elated and unburdened of the dreadful pain. Not a pain killer had passed my lips and I was fixed!

From that one appointment, I decided that there was a lot more to medicine than what my parents and presuming many others of their generation had become attuned to.

So, other than the family GP, who are the other health professionals who you might call upon when you suffer from an injury or discomfort as a martial artist?

Physio Therapist

I am lucky to have come across a really great physio who has both taught me a lot about my own body and how it works and also really helped me to correct some long time imbalances and failures in my “setup” that have made a huge difference to my levels of “normal pain”.

A physio helps you get active and strong again if you have a health issue or disability that affects your body’s functions or makes it hard for you to move around freely. They also help you prevent injuries and illnesses.

Physios have skills to treat and prevent health problems involving:

  • Joints, bones and soft tissue
  • Heart
  • Chest and lungs
  • Brain and nervous system

Physios work in lots of different settings including hospitals, medical centres, marae, schools, work places, communities and private clinics.


Osteopathy is a system and philosophy of health care that separated from traditional (allopathic) medical practice about a century ago. It places emphasis on the musculoskeletal system, hence the name–osteo refers to bone and path refers to disease. Osteopaths also believe strongly in the healing power of the body and do their best to facilitate that strength. During this century, the disciplines of osteopathy and allopathic medicine have been converging.

Osteopathy shares many of the same goals as traditional medicine, but places greater emphasis on the relationship between the organs and the musculoskeletal system as well as on treating the whole individual rather than just the disease.

Pain is the chief reason patients seek musculoskeletal treatment. Pain is a symptom, not a disease by itself. Of critical importance is first to determine the cause of the pain. Cancers, brain or spinal cord disease, and many other causes may be lying beneath this symptom. Once it is clear that the pain is originating in the musculoskeletal system, treatment that includes manipulation is appropriate.


Problems in the spine can manifest in many places
by perpetualplum under CC BY
Problems in the spine can manifest in many places


Chiropractic is from Greek words meaning done by hand. It is grounded in the principle that the body can heal itself when the skeletal system is correctly aligned and the nervous system is functioning properly. To achieve this, the practitioner uses his or her hands or an adjusting tool to perform specific manipulations of the vertebrae. When these bones of the spine are not correctly articulated, resulting in a condition known as subluxation, (partial dislocation) the theory is that nerve transmission is disrupted and causes pain in the back, as well as other areas of the body.

The main chiropractic treatment technique involves manual therapy, including manipulation of the spine, other joints, and soft tissues; treatment also includes exercises and health and lifestyle counselling.

I only ever went to a chiropractor once and the results didn’t inspire me to return. I don’t blame the practice — in that case it may have been the practitioner.


So whats the difference between these two? The best definition I could find is;

A Chiropractor and an Osteopath both work with a patient’s whole body and it is because they are both considered holistic healers that people tend to get the two professionals confused. On their surfaces chiropractics and osteopathy look almost the same but in reality the two schools of thought are unique and their approach to patient care and therapy is very different.

A chiropractor is a person who is interested in how a person’s body works, but views the workings of a body primarily through the spinal and muscular systems. Usually a chiropractor focuses on pain relief and injury recovery. He or she will use spine and joint adjustments, massage, electrical stimulation and rehabilitative exercise to help a patient heal as well as working with the patient in other areas of his life (primarily diet and exercise programs).

Osteopaths work with a patient’s whole body, not just the spinal system and joints. An osteopath will conduct a thorough exam of a patient’s entire body to diagnose the patient’s problem. He is usually contacted in a patient’s effort to reduce pain or heal from an injury, but he helps patients with a variety of other problems as well. His methods of treatment involve physical therapy, adjustments to the body and massage.

Both chiropractors and Osteopaths use treatments that involve the moving of a person’s body outside its usual range of motion. A chiropractor will do this by swiftly moving a joint out of its usual range of motion and putting it back in its starting position. An Osteopath will usually employ a more gentle technique that stretches the muscles surrounding a joint in ways that they are not used to stretching.

Both chiropractors and Osteopaths use physical movements to treat pain and injuries. A chiropractor will move the patient during a visit, placing his or her limbs in precarious positions in an effort to decrease joint and muscle pain. An Osteopath will teach a variety of poses to a patient so that he or she can continue with the therapy at home.


The lists of different types of massage seems to grow every day as we are blessed with international knowledge, techniques and practitioners being within our reach all around the country. The list of potential benefits of massage is also huge and I don’t really think I need to list those here. Quite simply, if you have a massage and it doesn’t make you feel better — I would recommend finding another masseuse. The relaxation, stress reduction from muscle relaxation and an enhanced feeling of well being should be the result.

** Note from Brett: Massage should not be undertaken within 24 hours of a soft-tissue injury. This may cause more harm than good.


I mentioned acupuncture near the beginning of this article and basically I can say that I am a huge believer in the treatments. I have had acupuncture for a number of injuries and even just for a “tune up” to ensure my “engine” is firing on all cylinders.

Acupuncture literally means ‘needle piercing,” the practice of inserting very fine needles into the skin to stimulate specific anatomic points in the body (called acupoints or acupuncture points) for therapeutic purposes. Along with the usual method of puncturing the skin with the fine needles, the practitioners of acupuncture also use heat, pressure, friction, suction, or impulses of electromagnetic energy to stimulate the points. The acupoints (acupuncture points) are stimulated to balance the movement of energy (qi) in the body to restore health.

The objective of acupuncture is to use the needles to restore the balance by adjusting the flow of energy through the meridian pathways. According to Chinese medicine, there is a constant flow of energy (known as “qi”) within the human body, carrying oxygen and nutrients to different organs. Any interruption or stagnation of the flow of “qi” will result in disharmony, and over time, will lead to distress.

Given that acupuncture treatment aims at unblocking the energy flow within the body, acupuncture is a form of not only natural healing but also holistic medicine. It encourages the patient’s own energy to return to balance for ultimate healing.

General Practitioners — “Western medicine”

I guess I would class myself as a “typical male” who won’t go near a doctor’s office unless I think I am about to die. In all honesty, I would not be exaggerating to say I have been less than 5 times in the last 10 years. I don’t believe that I am neglecting my health — on the contrary, whenever I do go for whatever reason, in general all signs are fine. (I did go this week with my fractured rib and my blood oxygen levels were tested to ensure no lung damage etc) It is more that I seek alternative medicines and treatments like acupuncture as that is what I believe is best for me.


Our own unique lifestyles, experiences and opinions will shape our beliefs of what is the best treatment for us as individuals. I just feel it is important to explore alternatives if you are not already doing so, as finding something that works for you in particular could quite literally be a life changing experience.

The real lesson for me is that when you have pain or discomfort, don’t “get used to it” — there are people that can help and in my opinion, every day of a joyful, pain free and fulfilling life is worth going after with both hands.

There is no one on this earth who can feel what you do from within your own body — therefore my advice to my family and friends is to always tell your practitioner everything and ask questions to understand what the treatment is that is being given to you. In my opinion, the more you understand what is happening and the more you tell yourself to make it work — the more likely you are to feel better.

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