My Healing Regimen for Injuries and Surgery
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My Healing Regimen for Injuries and Surgery

by Chris Kresser

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credit: Chris Kresser

I recently took my daughter Sylvie on a ski trip to Utah. I was looking forward to some father-daughter time (my wife was on a meditation retreat), introducing Sylvie to skiing, and doing some snowboarding myself. However, things didn’t go quite as planned. I had a bad fall on the slopes and ended up with a broken rib. Read on to learn the steps I took to recover from my injuries as fast as possible.

I’ve been skiing or snowboarding for 35 years, and I’ve never had a serious injury from either during that period. I guess I was due, because halfway through my first day on the mountain I had a spectacular wipeout. Most of the impact of the fall was focused on my left side, around the 9th and 10th ribs.

For the first five to 10 minutes after the fall I could hardly breathe, so I knew it was serious. Long story short, I ended up being transported by ambulance to the hospital in Salt Lake City (with Sylvie riding in the front; she’s still telling that story!). I had a chest x-ray and ultrasound, was diagnosed with a cracked rib (or ribs) and lung contusion, and was discharged with a prescription for Norco and ibuprofen.

My ski trip had obviously come to an abrupt halt, but we stuck around in Utah for the remainder of our trip (two days) so Sylvie could continue in ski school. She loved it and it made the whole experience worthwhile.

Eight natural remedies to help recover from injuries and surgery

Now that I’m back home, I’ve put myself on an intensive healing protocol. Managing pain and inflammation after injuries and surgery is an important part of the healing process, but I don’t think that pain medication and ibuprofen are the safest way to do that. I’m not opposed to them in the short term; I didn’t refuse the morphine they offered in the ambulance, and I did take Norco and ibuprofen the first couple of days while I was still in Utah and didn’t have access to my stuff. But over the intermediate to longer term, I certainly prefer a more natural approach.

I thought I would share what I’m doing, since I imagine it would be of interest to others who’ve been injured or are recovering from surgery. Just five days after the injury, I had already improved significantly—quite a bit more than is typical for cracked ribs, according to what the doctor told me to expect and the anecdotal reports of others who’ve suffered similar injuries.

Here is my regimen:

  • Curcumin (Meriva SR form, which is more bioavailable than standard curcumin preparations), 1,500mg three times a day with food. Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory, but it doesn’t have the side effects and risks of ibuprofen. 4.5g (4,500 mg) per day is a relatively high dose, but doses of up to 8g per day have been shown to be safe for short periods, and I believe that higher doses are necessary for short-term therapeutic benefit. (Important note: curcumin is contraindicated if you are taking a blood thinner, which may be prescribed post-surgery.) I like the Thorne Research soy-free brand.
  • Boswellia AKBA (this is an extract of Boswellia that is more potent than the whole herb), 100mg three times a day with food. Boswellia is also anti-inflammatory, but it works with a different mechanism than curcumin, which makes them a complementary pair. I like the Pure Encapsulations brand.
  • Wobenzym PS, three tablets three times a day on an empty stomach. Wobenzym is a blend of systemic enzymes. There isn’t much research behind it, but anecdotally I’ve found it to be helpful (in my own experience, and with patients) for joint pain and inflammation, and there isn’t much risk, so I decided to include it. Even if it’s a placebo, it’s safer than a lot of the other options!
  • CBD oil. CBD is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, and it is anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It is sold legally over the counter (for now; if the DEA gets its way, it won’t be for much longer) because it does not produce the “high” that THC does. We use it regularly with patients at CCFM, and I’m finding it to be helpful with the pain and with sleep (because of the pain). I like the Ojai Energetics Super CBD product and the dose is 1-2 droppers full once or twice a day as needed.
  • Bone broth, one cup twice a day. Bone broth is rich in a variety of nutrients that support soft- and hard-tissue repair. I prefer the Kettle & Fire brand when we’re not making it ourselves.
  • Chinese “Fall and Hit Medicine” (Die Da Ke 跌打科). Many of you may know that I was originally trained in Chinese Medicine, and I have studied Chinese internal martial arts like tai chi and Bagua for many years. There is a long history within Chinese martial arts of using “hit medicine”—compresses, plaster, and liniments made from Chinese herbs—to help heal injuries. I’m using products from Spring Wind. For those who are unfamiliar with this type of medicine, the company has a great document explaining how to use it for trauma. I am using one of the dissipating plasters, a compress, and the trauma liniment. Unfortunately, I think the compresses and plasters are only available to practitioners, but the liniment is sold to the general public.
  • Acupuncture. I have always found acupuncture to be helpful for pain and trauma. I’m getting treatments three times a week at a community acupuncture clinic, the Berkeley Acupuncture Project. Community acupuncturists are very experienced because they focus exclusively on acupuncture (and don’t use herbs or other treatments, typically). They see a high volume of patients in a large-room setting, which enables them to offer very affordable treatments on a sliding scale of $18 to $40. The secret to using acupuncture to heal trauma (or anything else for that matter) is frequency; two treatments a month, which is what people often go for, isn’t going to cut it. At least two, and preferably three, times a week initially will be much more effective, and then you can titrate down from there.
  • Rest. This might go without saying, but rest is perhaps the single most important part of a trauma recovery program.

Okay, that’s it! I’m about three weeks in, and the ribs are healing well at this point. I’ve got a ways to go—broken ribs don’t tend to heal overnight—but I’ve been able to resume many of my daily activities.

If you’re on any narcotics, analgesics, anti-inflammatories, or blood thinners post-injury or post-surgery, please check with your doctor before taking any of these supplements. The bone broth, “hit medicine,” and rest are obviously fine no matter what!

Hope this is helpful.

51 Comments

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  1. Thanks for this. I have had a bad case of leaky gut/histamine intolerance for the past few years. I am having hip surgery and am concerned about taking the prescribed NSAID. Any thoughts on adding White Willow bark to the regimen?

  2. My experience taking CBD continues to be nothing short of amazing. I began taking these CBD’s following an extensive 5 hours spinal surgery in early 2016 and this is the only pain medication I have used since the surgery. I saw my surgeon just a few days ago, and when he saw my spinal x-rays, his response was: “This is remarkable. whatever you are doing, please keep it up. Everything looks perfect!” And, I will keep taking the BioCBD+ to ensure my continued health. – Mukara

  3. My experience with cbd oil is a life saver! I can live a normal life despite extensive spine surgery. Many people with that kind of surgery are not able to function in their lives and remain severely handicapped. Because of cbd oil, I can live a normal life and it is a miracle. I have tried other products but they do not have the same effectiveness. Thank you biocbdplus. – Mukara

  4. I’m so sorry to hear about your accident (obviously I am behind on my emails)! I was wondering what your thoughts are on castor oil is for healing after injuries and surgery. I think it can be helpful especially for abdominal surgeries, as well as for women with reproductive issues, such as cysts, fibroids, etc. but I don’t know if there is any science to prove this. Thanks

  5. I had been suffering of lower back pain for quite sometime due to a injury I had few years back and I also found Reiki to be quite helpful in managing the pain.

    You can read a little about it here

    http://reikirays.com/13407/reiki-away-your-lower-back-pain/

    this here is quite helpful and I can say form personal experience Bone broth is easiest and tastiest way to deal with aches .. Thank you chris, one article I am definitely sharing with my friends.

  6. hey chris, thanks for the valuable information here, this is really helpful.

    Another treatment that I found quite useful and helped me recover from the spinal injury after my road accident few years back was reiki

    This treat can heal sprains, aches, torn ligaments and breaks, pretty much everything and thus definitely worth a try.

  7. I don’t go for ski but normal injuries happens often, you are a doctor so you know that what you are doing will be good for your health but for a non doctor it could be very risky to take any medicine without consulting a doctor.

  8. Very good suggestion. I’ve also lower back pain which I can use above medicine as a Anti-Inflammatory, and analgesic medicine. I liked your article and would like to share with my friends.

  9. I enjoyed this article, and use all of the methods you have suggested here except for frequent use of acupuncture. Thank you for explaining that acupuncture needs to be given frequently. There is good value in reducing inflammation for trauma injuries.
    My husband had a serious truck wreck 40 years ago which damaged ligaments, and now he has arthritis in both knees . A few months ago he twisted one knee and has hardly been able to walk since.
    We recently visited a DO at a Midwestern University clinic and found out about prolotherapy. He administered one shot, just the dextrose, not platelet replacement. He advised that we should discontinue the herbs, spices and anti-inflammatory medicines because it will be the inflammation induced by the prolotherapy that will stimulate healing of the ligaments around the joint.
    I wonder if you might share your experiences / thoughts about this type of treatment for chronic joint pain?

  10. Chris, So sorry to hear about your accident. Which resort were you skiing? Just curious because I’m a Ski Instructor in Utah.

    The timing of this post is great for me. Three weeks ago I, too, had a hard fall. Shattered my rt clavicle. Two weeks ago I had surgery to reassemble the four pieces of the clavicle back into one bone with the help of a plate and more than a few screws.

    I only took Norco for one day after surgery and now I don’t need even ibuprofen. However, my doctor said to take 3, 800 mg doses a day for inflammation. Occasionally, I’ll feel guilty and try to follow his order, but I just can’t see taking it when I don’t feel I need it for pain. Now you have given me options to deal with the inflammation so I feel good about ditching the pills.

    Thank you.

  11. Chris, Sorry to hear about your cracked rib. I got a rib fracture in an automobile collision years ago and it was painful just to breathe. Nothing seemed to make a difference for me, including the strongest Px pain meds (which I stopped taking when I found they didn’t do anything for me), and the pain would wake me up at night when I rolled over onto the injured area, but with time it healed. My farmer grandparents and their relatives didn’t have emergency access to hospitals or physicians in their youth (and had to set each others’ bones), so they used comfrey (knitbone) compresses to try to aid healing, but I didn’t try that. If it happened again, I would probably try to rig up something (beyond the pillows I tried) to stop me rolling over.

  12. Hi Chris. Your protocol sounds really good – the CBD oil sounds interesting! I broke my dominant hand’s wrist in January and never took the drugs they gave me, though I came really close as it was sometimes so painful I would shake like a leaf. I decided to tried everything in my cupboard first and found to my utter surprise that Ginger worked super good. I researched it and found that Ginger works just as good if not better than pain relievers. Through the days and weeks I ended up taking Curcumin, Serrapeptase, Silica, Concentrace, and MSM. The MSM in the end was the winner. It helped my pain and inflammation so much. My wrist healed without surgery and it it healed perfectly. Now that my cast has finally come off I am bathing my wrist and hand in warm water with MSM and Epsom Salt, It has become so stiff. I believe I will recover more quickly than expected! All the best in your recovery!

  13. I’m thinking meditation is a lot safer 😉 unless of course you are accomplishing yogic flying!

    Get fit soon, we need you!!!

    Kelda, in the audience in London October 2015

  14. I wish I had seen this years ago. Two years I broke my arm in a car accident and it took two years to heal. The consultant had no idea and suggested nothing!!

    I have achey thumbs and big toes now. Again the GP says nothing, or that it’s stress. It’s not gout and nothing shows up in x-rays. I was tested for the auto-immune type of arthritis but that came back negative and all blood tests normal.

  15. Would appreciate hearing about CBD oil and skin pre-cancers. Rick simpson oil has many anectodal reports. I am confused by the practice in dermatology of slash and burn of the skin for many situations. I appreciate your work and research.

  16. Hey Chris, I broke some ribs falling hard on the asphalt once and used super blue stuff ointment (bluestuff.com) on the ribs and it took the edge off the pain so I could sleep at night. It is a great product to have around for pain. If you haven’t tried it before give it a go, you wouldn’t be disappointed, Fred

  17. I took my kids for ski lessons too and ended up falling and fracturing my humoral head on my dominant arm 5 weeks ago! Thank you for this post. My regimen matched yours except I didn’t know about the boswellia. And my curcumin was too low. CBD definitely helps with sleep but I still seem to have to take a Norco on PT days:(
    Good news is I WENT SKIING!!! With CIRS and Lyme and Hashimotos, I had started LDN 3 weeks prior to the accident and I think THAT is why I felt ready to get out there! Of course I haven’t taken any LDN since Norco so I appreciate that I can adjust my doses of curcumin, add boswellia and that may work. You’ve helped me immeasurably Chris. Thank you!

  18. When I broke my ribs, I started taking arnica (can’t remember the dose) and at the six week mark, went from bad pain turning over at night to no pain at all. Have never had any further pain which I’ve heard can linger for years.

  19. Homeopathic Arnica is wonderful to help heal most injuries and it helps against inflammation. To help bones heal Sympythum Officinalle in homeopathic presentation, too. Both have given me great support. Hope you heal well!

  20. Hey Chris,
    I’ve been following you for years. Wishing you a speedy recovery. I am a health coach and now CEO of a company that produces the finest Marine Collagen. SHORE MAGIC is the name. People have healed bones in 2 weeks on my product when 6 weeks was the expected time frame. I would love to send you some!!

  21. Chris,
    I know you are a big fan of Stephen Buhner’s work.
    One of his less publicised recommendations is Elder (bark, stems, leaves or root ) to speed healing bones after a fall.
    Note. The herb must be boiled prior to consumption or can be strongly emetic.
    Check out his Facebook page for details. There is a story there about his partner falling off a ladder.

  22. A question. Given that inflammation is a key stage in healing – the painful movement of one rib part on another stimulates the formation of soft callus – it suggests that anti-inflammatory interventions/meds should be used sparingly, It should be just enough to aid mobility and recuperative sleep. Am I being too hard on my patients…?

    Many thanks,
    Peter

    • Exactly! Healing is an inflammatory process, so I’m wondering the same thing. My Husband had cervical spinal fusion 10 days ago. He would Love to take an anti-inflammatory for the relief it would offer, but doesn’t want to interfere w/ the healing. Any thoughts/ ideas are welcome!!!

    • I hate to keep sounding like I’m pushing my own products but My Shore Magic Premium Marine Collagen definitely helps inflammation AND aids the healing process. I do what I do because more people need to understand the HEALING POWER in this one pure substance. It’s my passion and I have seen crazy stuff happen in my four years of working with clients and this powder. People heal in 1/3 the time.

  23. Thank you Chris! This is so timely, I’m having a hysterectomy in 6 days. How long do you recommend taking the supplements listed after surgery?
    Jen Wood

  24. It would also benefit people to add homeopathic remedies prescribed by a knowledgeable practitioner to the list of holistic treatments. I am an orthomolecular practitioner in Toronto, CA, who has used Chinese medicine, Western herbal medicine, accupuncture, homeopathics, and chiropractic for injuries and various health issues alongside the nutrition and functional medicine standard. By far, I see fastest and most profound results with homeopathy. Read more here: https://drnancymalik.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/sports-medicine/

  25. – You can do some electrical grounding for your body in general and put EKG patches on injured areas to speed up the healing process 2 times. That is also a great way to reduce pain and inflammation. More on that is in the book “Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever! ” of Clinton Ober.
    – Use an extract of the Maral Root to speed up the natural anabolic recovery processes in your muscles.

  26. Hey Chris I live in Melbourne Australia and would love to see a Functional Medicine Doctor. Are there any FM Doctors that have undergone your training in the Melbourne region?

    Also, I am interested in getting acupuncture and read your acupuncture articles and would like to know how I can ensure I am seeing an acupuncturist how views acupuncture according to real Chinese Medicine (as discussed in your articles)?

    • There is one in Sydney, Kate Norris. You could go up and see her once in person and the rest on Skype but you wont get medicare rebates for the skype. If you do hear of someone in Melbourne I would love to know so I can refer people.

    • Hi Renee,

      We will be launching our own directory featuring practitioners who have completed our ADAPT Framework Level One course in about a month or so. Stay tuned!

  27. Thanks Chris for sharing your injury journey. I broke my left wrist in late January ice-skating and am now better with intensive physical therapy (3x week). I also was put on hefty doses of painkillers (oxycodone) and weaned myself off daytime use very quickly after experiencing almost hallucinogenic side-effects not to mention drowsiness. I have done OK on 1/4 or less of pill at night to help with pain and sleep. However, still concerned that it’s an opioid so may try alternatives mentioned here assuming non-addictive. With the opioid epidemic, one has to careful to not get hooked on painkillers. I also take 1000mg of Vitamin C daily for wound healing since required surgery with titatinium implant and meditate with deep breathing to combat pain when doing PT exercises during the day. I talk about lessons learned from a broken wrist and mindfulness on recent episodes of my Real World Wellness podcast.

  28. I’m mystified that you still choose to be a carnivore when all the evidence points to the fact that our bodies are designed to be herbivores…

    • I’m mystified that you would post this when all evidence points to the fact that Chris is an omnivore which is the way humans are designed to eat.

    • Dr. Sayer, Like Penelope said, Chris eats an omnivorous diet and he has shared a lot of positive information about plant foods in his articles. Chris has reported extensively that it’s working well for him and also provided plenty of supportive science, so there’s no mystery as to why he does it. Please “seek first to understand…”

  29. Oh no! That’s such a painful injury, even when you breathe. When you return to the slopes next year, it will take a lot more courage than usual. Thanks for the pain and healing tips.

  30. Curious what other’s experiences have been with CBD oil and chronic osteoarthritic joint issues, including particular brands used. Thanks so much in advance

  31. You can try NR nicotinamide riboside to release your pain and heal faster. They are many anecdotal reference that point to NR speed up recovery and reduces inflammation and pain.

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