By Robert Chu, L.Ac.
Throughout my many years in my sports and martial arts, I have come across
many trauma (known in Chinese as dit da, literally "fall and strike")
prescriptions for herbal liniments, powders, plasters, and decoctions. Many
Chinese are familiar with herbal liniments that are used for bruises,
sprains, strains, fractures, and other trauma, due to a blow or fall. These
formulas can all be used by weekend athletes and others who have to visit
their sports medicine doctor. Beware of claims, "My secret formula is the
best!" In the past, I stared with amazement and almost revered the brown,
smelly liniment as I rubbed it into my bruises and training aches and pains.
After studying Chinese medicine and learning the fundamental principles,
etiology of disease, methods of diagnosis, herbology, massage, acupuncture,
moxibustion and cupping, I learned that a Chinese medicine practitioner must
tailor treatments to the individual, and no set method is used to cure
everyone or every injury. Indeed, one liniment I used regularly for bruises
did heal my bruises in a few days, but always made me break out in a rash
that lasted for two weeks! It always seemed to me that the cure was almost as
bad as the injury or worse!
I later analyzed the prescription's individual ingredients and, through
diagnosis, found my personal constitution had a lot of heat. Although the
traditional formula has some very toxic and warm herbs in it, based on my
constitution, these herbs were not for me. The result of having a warm
constitution, living in a warm climate (Los Angeles), plus using warm herbs
was inflammation, a rash.
Tradition or not, this prescription was not for me. Instead, I substituted
the prepared versions of the above herbs and the effect was more agreeable
for my individual constitution. Most experienced herbalists take a base
formula and customize it for the individual. Thus, there is not one true,
secret, ultimate trauma prescription! So beware of such claims.
Generally speaking, commercial forms of Chinese herbal trauma formulas like
Xiao Huo Luo Dan (small invigorate collaterals pill), Bai Hua Yu (white
flower oil), Tian Qi Jiu (first aid antiseptic), Yunnan Bai Yao (yunnan white
powder), and Zheng Gu Shui (correct the bone liniment), are safe and
effective for most everyday injuries. Many Chinese would rather use these
herbal formulas first for a minor injury. I would certainly advise readers to
seek proper medical attention in case of serious injury.
Xiao Huo Luo Dan is taken as a pill, and generally used for backaches, muscle
strains, and broken bones. This is available prepackaged with directions for
use. Like all herbal medicines, it is best to use as directed on the package.
Bai Hua Yu is a fragrant analgesic oil, used for stiff muscles and strains as
a result of "over doing it." I usually refer to it as "Chinese Ben Gay."
Avoid getting the oil on your face, as it can irritate the eyes.
Tian Qi Jiu is an herbal liniment for bruises. Usually, the person using it
rubs it on topically into bruises or contusions.
Yunnan Bai Yao is a powder that stops bleeding immediately and is used when
you have minor cuts or scrapes, or if you cut yourself shaving. During the
Vietnam War, soldiers were given a supply of this powder for firearm wounds.
It was so precious that soldiers referred to it as a "gold they wouldn't
trade." Dramatically, this powder can stop bleeding instantly and promote
healing with little to no scarring.
Finally, Zheng Gu Shui is a fine liniment for minor bruises, strains, and
minor fractures to the fingers or toes. It also helps stop the pain that may
occur due to minor sports injuries. It is also best to avoid on the face as
it can irritate the eyes.
All of these commercial patents are available at your local Chinatown drug
store or Chinese herbalist. If your goal is hard training, or you have
sustained a more severe injury, it is better to visit a Chinese herbalist to
create a formula based on your individual constitution, climate, and type of
training or injury. Just because herbal formulas are natural, does not mean
they are not dangerous medicine when used incorrectly. Many immuno-comprised
individuals and pregnant women should avoid herbal trauma prescriptions as
the herbs may be somewhat toxic or have affects regarding blood flow and may
lead to miscarriage.
A good reference book for the majority of Chinese trauma herbs and their uses
is Chinese Patent Herbal Formulas by Jake Fratkin (Shya Publications, 1985).
Robert Chu is a Licensed Acupuncturist/Chinese herbalist available for
consultation in the Los Angeles area. You can e-mail him at
for martial arts and sports medicine-based training herbal formulas for
trauma and pain. He can alsso be reached at:
Robert Chu, L.Ac.
at Miller Family Chiropractic
212 East Foothill Blvd.
Arcadia, CA 91006