By John Steinke, L.Ac
Bone fractures are among the most serious of all musculo-skeletal injuries. In addition to broken bones such injuries usually involve deep trauma to adjacent soft tissues – muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves. In twenty-plus years as an acupuncturist and herbalist specializing in sports medicine I’ve found that modern Chinese herbal formulas are especially useful for treating serious bone fractures. In addition to initiating healing in non-union fractures these formulas can reduce healing time for fractures by about one-third while improving outcomes in cases involving multiple fractures.
The most effective natural bone-healing formulas are based on ancient traditional martial arts formulas. Developed over a period of several centuries, these herbal formulas have been shown to speed healing of both fractured bones and soft tissues. Such formulas combine three types of ingredients – bone-building, blood circulation and cellular energy herbs. A proper, effective formula is incomplete without all three types of herbs.
The bone-knitting herbs provide nutrition that stimulates bone healing and growth. The circulation herbs serve three very important functions – they help heal the soft tissues, reduce inflammation and pain, and improve circulation to the bones to deliver the bone-knitting ingredients. The cellular energy herbs provide the energy resources that all tissues need to heal and regrow.
The chart below lists the herbs and their basic functions in each of the formulas.
While fractures were obviously known to the ancient Chinese healers, they did not diagnose osteoporosis and osteonecrosis, which require modern bone scan, x-ray and other medical evaluations. However, they did treat osteoporosis as part of an overall picture of aging – bent back, weak knees, etc. They also treated conditions of pain and loss of mobility and function that would today be evaluated as osteonecrosis.
Osteonecrosis is a severe loss of bone tissue due to damaged blood vessels that feed bone tissue. One type of osteonecrosis is avascular necrosis of the femoral head of the hip. In this case there is no or little blood circulation to the hip, which loses its bony structure and crushes just with weight bearing movement. Modern herbal formulas are used in treating this condition in Chinese hospitals along with proper physical therapy.
While osteoporosis, osteonecrosis and fractures are different disorders, it is easy to understand that all three conditions require the same types of herbs – bone-building, circulation, and cellular energy.
I have been working with a modern bone-support formula that is different from all other formulas, past and present, in that it utilizes oyster shell peptides to regulate how the body uses calcium. By correcting the faulty regulation of calcium, it aids the body in storing calcium in the bones where it is used to build bone structure, while reducing the trend towards calcium accumulation in soft tissues, such as in arteries or internal glands and organs, where it doesn’t belong.
This formula utilizes Astragalus polysaccharides as a featured ingredient for cellular energy production. The polysaccharides are a highly concentrated, and expensive, extract from the valuable astragalus root. The formula also contains Tang-kuei, the famous Chinese herb for improving blood circulation to all tissues. So, the the combinatin of three primary active ingredients – oyster shell peptides, astragalus polysaccharides and concentrated tang-kuei – make for an extremely effective and complete bone growth formula.
By using this formula in addition to a good circulatory support formula, the outcome for all of the bone disorders mentioned above are significantly improved.
The circulatory support formula that I prefer contains Cordyceps, one of the central herbs in most modern Chinese osteoporosis formulas for its bone-building and cellular energy functions. Additionally, my preferred formula also provides five other herbs noted for their ability to improve blood circulation in cases of avascular necrosis leading to osteonecrosis. Notably, one of these herbs, Salvia, is now the most important herb in China for restoring microvascular circulation to all of the body’s tissues. Microvascular circulation includes the tiny capillaries where nutrition from the blood supply is delivered to our cells and waste products of cellular activity are removed. Salvia is noted to improve fracture healing by enabling better formation of the bony callus that knits the fractured bone together.
While calcium regulation is important in treating osteoporosis, much less appreciated is the need to improving blood circulation and cellular energy production. As we age, blood thickens. We tire more easily and have less energy to spare for healing.
Everything is compounded when the bones become so brittle from osteoporosis that they fracture easily. You then have to rebuild the osteoporotic bone and heal the fracture.