As more athletes seek alternatives to Western medicine, a new discipline called sports acupuncture has emerged. Like many Western acupuncturists, I got involved in this profession after seeking an alternative treatment for an injury. In the years since I decided to pursue a degree in acupuncture, I’ve treated everyone from professional athletes to Olympic hopefuls to marathon runners. More and more athletes are seeking alternative, holistic therapies to treat their injuries in an effort to expedite recovery and enhance performance. I have found acupuncture to be a safe and effective option for a host of reasons.
To start, Acupuncture focuses not only on the local symptoms but on the root cause. Secondly, each treatment is individualized based on the practitioner’s style, method, and approach to treating a condition, as well as the patient’s presentation, needs, and response. In addition, you are treating the mind and body all together. Acupuncture is also a natural healing treatment involving no medication.
I’ve found acupuncture treatment remarkable for both its effectiveness in resolving all kind of sports and musculoskeletal injuries and the speed at which it produces results. For many athletes, timing is vital. Returning athletes to their sport safely and quickly can be the difference between them winning a championship or sitting on the sidelines as their dreams pass them by. To this end, we as sports medicine professionals have to be able to think outside the box, and help our athletes do the same.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncture treatment focuses on needling various combinations of the 360 local acupuncture points located along 14 meridian lines, or channels, on the anterior and posterior of the body. The needling stimulates the nervous system, causing chemicals to be released and an unbalanced meridian to become unblocked. This allows the local blood and energy to reach the site of the injury, which produces healing. Needling also helps the body’s affected internal organs become balanced—resolving the underlying root problem of the injury.
A fairly new discipline called sports acupuncture includes needling the motor points on an injured muscle, a treatment that causes the muscle to continually twitch (activate) and return to a normal, spasm-free state, thereby strengthening it. Another treatment involves needling the ashi points (trigger points) in TCM, which promotes localized blood flow to the injured area, eliminating pain and spasms.
Also called orthopedic acupuncture or sports medicine acupuncture, sports acupuncture is used in conjunction with Western rehabilitative treatments in order to achieve the best possible outcomes. In some cases, heat modalities, electrical stimulation, cupping, or various manual techniques will be combined with acupuncture. These manual techniques can include joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization, massage and stretching. For example, I may pair acupuncture with soft tissue manipulation to treat a specific imbalanced muscle group. In addition, I often have the athlete perform strengthening and proprioceptive therapeutic exercises.
Western sports medicine tends to use a protocol treatment format focused on resolving symptoms. Sports acupuncture treats both the local symptoms and the root cause of the injury. The treatment starts with the underlying problem and works its way up to the local symptoms, as opposed to treating the symptoms first and then working on the root of the problem.
The goal of any sports-injury treatment is to eliminate pain, reduce inflammation, increase mobility by reducing muscle tightness and spasms, and re-activate the injured, weakened muscles. Sports acupuncture is successful because it enables the practitioner to directly access the site of the injury through the use of needles. Results can include immediate reduction of pain and muscle spasms, decrease in swelling and inflammation, increase in range of motion, restoration of mobility, strengthening of weakened parts of the injured body and the immune system, and quickened healing time. There is no limit to the types of injuries that can benefit from sports acupuncture, from plantar fasciitis to hamstring strains to meniscus tears, and many others.