Acupuncture and Sports Performance

When most people think of acupuncture, they probably think of a spa treatment or holistic modality to relieve certain ailments. However, healthcare professionals are now recommending acupuncture for competitive athletes.

Athletes all over the world are turning to sports acupuncture to help them avoid getting hurt and to promote recovery when an injury is sustained. Sports acupuncture is used to speed healing, relieve pain, and increase muscle strength and stamina.

Surfers, skaters, runners, Major League Baseball and NFL star players, and even Olympians have embraced sports acupuncture. At Awaken Integrative Wellness, we practice sports acupuncture on a daily basis.

How Sports Acupuncture Works for Athletes

America’s top athletes are using acupuncture on its own and in conjunction with other modalities and Western medicine as a part of their regular practice and treatment regimes. Acupuncture helps the body to heal and balance itself by allowing energy to properly flow from the points along the meridians, the energy pathways defined by Traditional Chinese Medicine. Energy needs to flow freely without blockages in order for the body to function at an optimal level.

In the West, acupuncture has become a fairly well recognized if alternative method of treating maladies nausea, pregnancy sickness, and pain, which are the maladies that are most often covered by insurance. While Chinese medicine has always closely been linked with sports, martial arts, and healing all things in nature from nature, Western medicine has only recently become more accepting of the practical application of acupuncture in sports settings.

Sports acupuncture is becoming a recognized treatment for frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, back pain, pulled tendons, torn ligaments, tendonitis, arthritis, bursitis, sciatica, tight hamstrings, muscle/tendon strain, golfer’s shoulder, tennis elbow, weak back, stiff neck, and other ailments athletes may incur.

Sports acupuncturists aim to bring the body back to balance by understanding the compensation patterns presenting with each sports-specific movement and injury. This allows them to help with injury prevention, optimal performance, and faster recovery.

Sports acupuncture may combine Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques with recognized diagnostic techniques such as range of motion tests, orthopedic evaluation tests, palpation, and manual muscle tests. Some sports acupuncturists may pay less attention to the traditional acupuncture points and focus more on inserting needles directly at pain sites and sore areas.

“In my extensive off-season workouts, I have noticed a difference in my balance and agility since receiving [sports acupuncture] treatments,” said Baltimore Ravens safety Will Demps, according to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. “I feel my muscles have been ‘turned on’ and are firing on all cylinders.”

Acupuncturist Matt Callison, a faculty member at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine who has treated players from the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers, has been working with athletes for more than a decade. “It all started with one guy—Martin Bayless—and then he ended up referring some more players, and it has snowballed from there,” Callison said.

Japanese MLB players like Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki have introduced acupuncture to their baseball teammates to help them bounce back more quickly after heavy trainings and during rehabilitation from injuries. Star NFL players like Steven Young and Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers were also treated with sports acupuncture. Sports acupuncture is credited with helping Canadian speed skater Kevin Overland win the bronze medal in the 1998 Olympics.

When athletes are prescribed rest for an injury, they use sports acupuncture, sometimes along with Western medicine, to speed up the healing process. The benefit of acupuncture is that it works without side effects from pharmaceuticals.

Acupuncture for Muscle Relief

When athletes perform, they put stress on their muscles and often incur injuries. Injuries affect the body’s ability to sense where it exists in space, creating an imbalance in the body’s proprioceptive system. The proprioceptive system allows the muscles to communicate with the nervous system. Acupuncture can balance and reset the muscles by restoring their proper energy flow and tone so they can better communicate with the nervous system, creating a more accurate sense of where one is in space.

regular people need sports acupuncture too

Nitric oxide is created in the body when acupuncture points are activated. This causes blood vessels to open up in the arteries and increase the flow of blood to the heart and organs, which improves blood circulation and cardiovascular wellbeing. Fatigue, inflammation, strain, tightness, and soreness are eased when blood flow is increased in the body. “Acupuncture is one of the quickest ways to restore muscle balance,” Callison said. “When acupuncture is used at specific sites, the muscle spindles are reset, and then that balance is reawakened.”

Acupuncture to Alleviate Pain

Acupuncture can also be used to treat pain from sports-related injuries. According to The World Health Organization, “Acupuncture’s effective rate in the treatment of chronic pain is comparable with that of morphine.” Acupuncture has been shown to clinically trigger the release of pain-relieving chemicals like endorphins, which act as a natural and rapid pain reliever with long-lasting effects.

Treating the pain directly at the site of the pain can also decrease inflammation, boost the immune system, and increases one’s range of motion. Athletes often turn to acupuncture as a way to avoid taking pain medications, which can exacerbate their condition, create permanent organ damage, be addictive, or have other side effects.

Acupuncture has been successful in treating sports injuries like strains; sprains; repetitive use syndrome; swollen muscles; shin splints; and neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee and ankle pain.

A study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health titled “Acupuncture and Dry-needling for Low Back Pain” states, “There is evidence that acupuncture, added to other conventional therapies, relieves pain and improves function better than the conventional therapies alone.” This is because acupuncture will stimulate nerve conduction and circulation in the inflamed area, which helps the site of pain or injury heal quicker.

Sports Acupuncture to Get Your Head in the Game

Star athletes need to maintain optimal physical and mental condition. The pressures of competitive sports and constantly being in the public eye can lead to decreased self-esteem, a fear of losing, anxiety, and nervousness.

According to an article in Acupuncture Today by Dr. Ronda Wimmer, these emotions create a physiologic response in the body, which can increase heart rate and affect muscle coordination and timing, respiration rate, and muscle tension and fatigue. Sports acupuncture releases chemicals in the brain that are conducive to a focused mind and relaxed body. Wimmer says that sports acupuncture is proven to help athletes achieve a mindset that can create success, while allowing them to adapt to the emotional and physical demands of competitive sports.

Awaken Integrative Wellness in Media, PA has qualified sports acupuncturists who will treat your sports injuries so you can stay in peak condition.

At Awaken Integrative Wellness, we currently treat professional soccer players, marathon runners, triathletes, crossfitters, professional mountain bikers, football players, baseball players, swimmers, volleyball players, and lacrosse players.

Before your first treatment, our staff will complete an extensive health intake, evaluate your symptoms, and prescribe a customized course of treatment. Awaken Integrative Wellness accepts most health insurance providers for acupuncture treatment.

Let Awaken Integrative Wellness help you to protect and improve your performance with sports acupuncture.