Sports and acupuncture have long been involved. I feel like when most people think of acupuncture and sports, they think of karate kid or yoga. But since acupuncture has evolved and we know more and more about the ability to treat various conditions, especially relating to sports, the more it is being applied. Acupuncture has become mainstream for professional athletes in America.
When I lived in San Diego, I was introduced to Matt Callison’s AcuSport system. He basically takes a physical therapist’s approach to diagnosis and applies modern acupuncture therapy to it. Sports have been a huge (and did I say huge?) part of my life. In fact, if it wasn’t for sports, I probably wouldn’t be here doing acupuncture. I played high school soccer and I sought acupuncture to help me to continue to play well. I still play soccer; I still injure myself, and I am always blown away at how fast and easily acupuncture works. I almost feel guilty when needling myself after straining or spraining something, because boom, 30 minutes later, it’s like it never happened! It isn’t helping me be easier on my body, but it sure helps me continue to compete and have fun! I see this over and over with my patients. They are out doing what they love with intensity and passion.
Acupuncture can help all types of athletes: from acute injuries to post concussion symptoms, sore muscles and overuse, headaches that get in the way, and even the mental aspect of sports. I see many athletes right before and after their events. In 2010, neuroscientists at the University of Rochester in New York found that needling muscles sends adenosine directly to the site of punctured tissue. Other studies have shown that adenosine can reduce inflammation – the cause of most physical ailments.
Last year, I had an excellent case with a very high level athlete with multiple events per week. This patient had suffered a broken bone—a stress fracture due to overuse. They were diagnosed by their primary care physician and told to stay off of it for six to eight weeks, which meant “season over,” and that was devastating. I treated this patient with acupuncture, electrical stimulation and homeopathic injections near the bone break three times per week. I used an herbal injection of arnica plus several other herbs that help with bone injuries. By the second week, this patient started running again and competed just 16 days later in one of the biggest events of the year and went on to place second! I was shocked by how fast the recovery was!
The greatest part about medical acupuncture in the use of sports injuries is we can truly hone in on the physical problem and then use specialized techniques to help people recover. For the bone break patient, it was extremely helpful to have a diagnosis in hand. I always encourage patients to be seen by a primary care physician or physical therapist. Not only does it make my job easier, so I don’t have to spend time and energy figuring out what is wrong with you without modern imaging tools, but it also allows me to get right to what we do best here—treatment!
A sports treatment should include electrical stimulation. No exception! You will never read a successful research study involving acupuncture and pain without the use of electrical stimulation, and we use the same advanced device used in all clinical trials in China. We diagnose based on physical exam and movement screens—not Chinese channel or meridian diagnosis. We also use other physical modalities to get athletes better such as Graston, or what we call Gua sha or scraping, cupping, aka myofascial decompression, and kinesio taping (personally one of my favorites). Many professional athletes, retired and active, rely on acupuncture, such as; Aaron Rodgers (NFL), Randy Johnson (MLB), Kobe Bryant (NBA), Vincenzo Nibali (cyclist) and Will Demps (NFL) just to name a few. Even the US Army is using acupuncture to help soldiers with chronic pain.
I noticed when I went to acupuncture school that none, and I mean none of my classmates had really done any sport other than yoga or martial arts. And I thought to myself, “how can you treat athletes effectively and successfully without truly understanding what it is like to be an athlete?” When I am on the soccer field, weight lifting or climbing, I get into flow. I’m constantly trying to regulate my breathing, my muscles are tired I can see the struggle in my opponent’s eyes. It’s a physical battle, and it’s an emotional one. Sports are the most beautiful battles that take immense physicality, mental focus and total control over brain and body. Each motion, action and movement of your body is unique and may eventually be the cause of dysfunction.
My husband played college baseball and is now a high school baseball coach. As I watch him coach about the tiniest little movement changes, body shifts, stances, accelerations—it always brings a renewed sense of appreciation for sports because of the dynamics involved. If you don’t understand those dynamics, how can you help someone recover? I also treat many patients who used to be extreme athletes. I’m helping them recover from knee and hip replacements, post surgery or chronic pain of sorts. I ask every single one, “Was it worth it? If you knew you would have to get a knee replacement, would you have stopped running?” Every single patient responds with a version of, “I wouldn’t have stopped having fun, and I never would have quit my sport.”
"Work hard. And have patience. Because no matter who you are, you’re going to get hurt in your career and you have to be patient to get through the injuries."
—Randy Johnson - Major League Pitcher and Major Acupuncture Patient