Acupuncture for Athletes

This post is copied from our older, original blog. Original post date 02/28/2012. 

By Marcie Bower, Lic.Ac.

We treat a lot of athletes here at Stepping Stone – from recent moms who jog twice a week to get back in shape to college athletes, high school dancers to adult triathletes. (And maybe someday some professional athletes! Marcie dreams daily of treating Rajon Rondo.) We are both marathoners. So we understand the trials and unique challenges to health that athletes are faced with.

So how can acupuncture help athletes?

  1. Treatment of injuries.

This is probably the most common reason that athletes seek out acupuncture services. Acupuncture can be an effective front-line or adjunctive treatment for:

– repetitive use injuries like tendonitis: Acupuncture can be utilized to reduce swelling, relieve pain, decrease inflammation, and increase blood flow to the area.

– muscle strains and sprains: Acupuncture can be used in the acute phase to reduce swelling and pain and increase blood flow to the area to promote healing and increased range of motion. Once out of the acute phase, acupuncture can be used to balance the body’s natural muscular structure, avoid bracing from surrounding muscles, and strengthen the site of injury.

– stress fractures: In the acute phase, acupuncture can be a powerful complementary therapy to ease muscle guarding, increase blood flow to the area, decrease pain and inflammation. Longer-term, acupuncture can bring blood to the local area to assist with bone regeneration and address underlying structural and metabolic weaknesses that led to the stress fracture.

– shin splints: Acupuncture can reduce the pain, inflammation, and swelling associated with shin splints. For patients who have recurrent shin splints, treatment is most effective right at the start of symptoms.

– ligament, cartilage, and tendon tears: For a small partial tear that does not require surgical intervention, acupuncture can be an effective supportive treatment for decreasing inflammation, pain, and swelling. It also brings blood to the local area to promote healing and tissue regeneration. For a full tear or a larger tear that requires surgical intervention, acupuncture can reduce pain in the acute phase, and also prepare the body for surgery for a faster recovery. Post-surgery, acupuncture can target the pain and assist with tissue regeneration.

– bursitis: Acupuncture reduces inflammation and pain to promote recovery.

– plantar fasciitis: As in many of these common sports injuries, acupuncture reduces inflammation, pain, and tension. It also relaxes muscles in the lower legs and low back which relate to the soles of the feet through the fascia.

– muscle tension and soreness: Acupuncture is a very effective treatment for acute or chronic muscle tension and soreness, even if there is no diagnosed injury. Acupuncture relaxes the individual muscle fibers, releases endorphins, and increases blood flow to tense and blocked areas. By using orthopedic acupuncture techniques, we can also stimulate muscular motor points (where nerves innervate the muscle spindle) to reset the muscle’s function and stop dysfunctional muscle signals. Acupuncture can also help ease communication between the central nervous system and the muscle fibers.

  1. Prevention of Injuries.

As important as being able to treat injuries is, wouldn’t it be better if you could stop them before they occur? This is really where acupuncture’s strength is. Athletes tend to know what their weakness is – either from old injuries or from a known location where they carry tension or where they “feel it” after a hard work-out. During training periods, acupuncture can work proactively to strengthen these sites, decrease muscular tension and guarding, and prevent inflammation and swelling.

Acupuncture also prevents injuries by working on the whole body, not just the problem sites. By bringing the body’s natural rhythms into balance, it decreases the possibility of injury by making sure that no one system, limb, or joint is weaker than others.

  1. Increases Performance.

Acupuncture is a holistic treatment. This means that to most effectively treat any condition, we look at how everything in the body interacts – the various muscle groups, the fascia, sleep cycles, and digestive, emotional, cardiovascular, respiratory, and reproductive health. Using acupuncture’s diagnostic methods such as looking at the tongue, feeling the pulse, palpating muscle areas and acupuncture points, we can rebalance issues in the body prior to symptoms being present. This means that we can help your body starve off a cold, have a more efficient metabolism, get more rejuvenating and restful sleep, better deal with stress, and have more balanced hormones. All of these things help you to be at your best when it comes to athletic performance. (Or everyday life!)

There are not any studies that I know of looking specifically at lung capacity and cardiovascular function in athletes with acupuncture. However, preliminary research has shown acupuncture may increase lung volume in asthma patients, and acupuncture has a known positive effect on the cardiovascular system and blood flow. So it may be that in another few years, we can claim that as another performance-enhancing benefit to sports acupuncture.