Acupuncture and Sports Injuries

Many superstar athletes have received acupuncture for injuries and to enhance performance. NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, hockey superstar Jaromis Jagr, Olympic high-jumper Amy Acuff, The New York Ballet of dancers, Canadian speed skater, Kevin Overland and others on the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers, to name a few.

The combination of acupuncture and sports medicine techniques focuses on proprioception which is the muscle’s awareness communicating to the central nervous system. Injury can disrupt this communication and hinder balance. Acupuncture is one of the quickest ways to restore muscle balance according to Matt Callison, a faculty member and sports acupuncturist at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Acupuncture is used to assist in rehabilitation, post-operative injuries, sports injuries and athletic performance by increasing range of motion, muscle strength and tissue healing potential. Acupuncture is also a viable preventative therapy that can greatly enhance sports mediated exercise. 

As long ago as 1993 the National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference on Acupuncture released this statement: “The data in support of acupuncture is as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies. One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse side effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs and other medical procedures used for the same conditions.”

There is some difference between sports acupuncture and other forms of acupuncture. Acupuncture needles are used to speed the healing rate of injuries and reduce pain by increasing local micro circulation and attracting white blood cells to an area. This process aids in the dispersal of swelling and bruising. Following a sports acupuncture treatment, a variety of substances can be released, including endorphins and neuro transmitters to reduce pain and promote relaxation. There are groups of sensory receptors located within skeletal muscles which monitor changes in the length of the muscles. These motor points are the most electrically excitable area of the muscle. Located on the skin over the muscle, they correspond approximately to the level at which the nerve enters the muscle belly. At or close to major acupuncture points, these points are responsible for setting the length of the muscle and for preventing over-stretching. When acupuncture needles are inserted this resets them. This can strengthen a weak muscle or relax tense ones. This technique effectively treats low back, mid-back and upper back pain, hip pain, strained Achilles tendons, tendinitis, hamstring strains, calf pulls, shoulder injuries, tennis elbow, Golfer’s elbow and sciatica.

Although combining medicine with acupuncture in sports medicine is in its infancy, it is actually very popular but many athletes are not telling the media or their trainers that they are receiving it. Physician Sports Medicine reported that a study conducted in 1998 revealed that 72 percent of athletes used some type of holistic unconventional therapy and did not tell their physicians that they had done so. More recent studies suggest acupuncture is effectively treating sports injuries like shin splints, tennis elbow, Golfer’s elbow, low back, mid-back and upper back pain, hamstring and calf strains, shoulder injuries, sciatica and even stress.

Anita Alexandra, L.Ac., CH is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist with 16+ years of experience. She practices at Chiropractic Health and Acupuncture, 619 Main Street, Frisco. (970)668-3299  

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