Muscle Tear: An Herbalist’s Story

Estimated read time... 4 minutes

A few days ago, I tore my gastrocnemius muscle walking across the street.  Before you ask, no I was not running, no I did not twist my ankle or step on my foot funny.  I figured it would be worth it to share with my readers how an herbalist handles situations such as these.

Please note: I am not giving advice (herbal, medical, or otherwise) as to how to go about addressing injuries or trauma.  If you have suffered an injury or trauma, please seek medical assistance.  I am simply sharing what I am doing, so that you can get a sense for what the possibilities are when approaching a first-aid/trauma situation.  The advice that I do give to you is to seek medical help if you suffer any injury – you’ll see why this is important as you read through the story!

Here goes:

I was crossing a 4 lane major street to head home for the night, normal pace, sturdy shoes, nothing was different from any other day that I was heading home from work.  Halfway across the street, the muscle knotted up like the worst Charlie horse in the world, then popped in the calf then down by the ankle/heel (the doc said the pop’s best description is being shot with a BB gun).  The pain was so terribly excruciating I could not put any weight on it, in fact the whole city went silent and I saw a blindingly bright light.  I hopped across the busy intersection on one foot, and spent an hour trying to find a cab to bring me home.  It was… an experience.

Initially I thought this was a spasm, and began treating it as such: I took bai shao/licorice decoction for calf spasms (this is the specific indication for this two-herb combination), lobelia tincture (also for spasms), St John’s Wort/Goldenrod oil applied externally, and even went so far as to lightly gua sha the area (Ow! – bad idea), took extra magnesium that night, and other antispasmodics in tincture form (I have a sleep blend that is heavily centered on California Poppy, Skullcap, Passionflower, Chamomile, etc).  Nothing helped; well the sleep tincture did give me 8 hours of uninterrupted pain-free sleep so there’s that.

When I woke up no better than when I went to bed, I decided that I had to go to urgent care.

Lo and behold I tore a muscle.

I have to note here that I am so thankful for going to urgent care, because I would have kept treating the tear as a spasm and would have probably done a lot of damage to my healing and leg in general.  It was ruled out that I did not have tendon damage, but got a positive squeeze test for a torn gastrocnemius muscle (the large muscle in the calf).

With the torn muscle diagnosis, I shifted my approach after being told to not put any weight on my leg until I saw an orthopedist…  I had no swelling, no bruising, slight warmth in area and nothing else.
I did the following:
–   Epsom salt/modified great mender/comfrey soaks alternating with dit dat jow (Miles’, mine, and my Tai Chi instructor’s)
–   Oils of goldenrod/St John’s Wort and comfrey leaf
–   I hesitated putting 3 Yellows on because it was a tear not a bruise/impact, and am wondering if I should have at this point because of the bruise.  I also hesitated with a ginger fomentation because there was already a slight sensation of heat on the leg.
–   Internally I took: circuherb, extra turmeric, vitamin c, omega 3’s, my standard supplement regimen, and also small amounts of the modified great mender
–   I kept my leg elevated (above the heart), and applied cool fomentation/compresses here and there.
–   Yunnan Bai Yao and this other brand “Dacon” plaster patches at night, and when at work on the third day.  I’ve since stopped using the patches because of a latex sensitivity reaction to them.

I got to see the orthopedist on day 3 (yahoo to my awesome doctor’s office!), and he agreed with the initial diagnosis, gave me a calf compression sleeve, and told me absolute minimal activity for the next 2-3 weeks.  I still had a lack of swelling and bruising to date, and warned me about an imminent bruise from my calf to my foot!  I got a “negative squeeze test”, contrary to my positive one from not two days before, which perplexed the doctor because I should have been much worse off than I was.  I’m chalking it up to my great self-care!

I decided to add St John’s Wort and Yarrow internally as tinctures, and Yarrow externally while continuing with the soaks, liniments, oils, etc.  I added the Yarrow to help move blood where it needed moving, and the St John’s Wort to soothe the tissues.  I continued with the rest of the protocol as outlined above.

Sure enough, a bruise formed by the end of the third day, only after I had been on it far too much since going to work.

Day 5 (today): I have a bluish/yellowish/brownish/reddish (aka rainbow) bruise that’s the size of a golf ball on my leg, no swelling, and no pain unless step on leg incorrectly or overuse it.

I feel pretty positive about my progress, all things considered.

This is not to say that I still don’t have several more weeks to go: I was told that I’d feel 100% in 2 weeks, but would actually be 100% in 3 weeks.  If I re-injure, or overuse my leg, healing could take anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks.  I’m being as diligent as possible, given that I have to go to work, so as to have the fastest recovery time possible.

I have started to lightly massage the bruised area with oil, yarrow tincture and/or liniment, in an attempt to eradicate it as quickly as possible (note: I do not massage to the point of pain).  The bruise appeared 2 days ago, and looks like it will be gone in two days.  We’ll see…

Now, back to elevating my leg, feeling grumpy about being couch and bed-bound, and drinking my version of Great Mender!

Injured leg, propped up on four pillows

Stuck in bed, unable to walk

Wrapping a fomentation with plastic wrap to speed absorption