If you’ve watched The Big Game on TV, occasionally, a sports commentator will take you back into the athletes’ training room. There you’ll see large tubs for ice baths, massage tables, whirlpools, and all manner of equipment and personnel to help get those high profile athletes back into the game.
Whether you’re a professional athlete, weekend competitor, or a casual participant, sports injuries happen. They occur as a result of inadequate training, improper or ill-fitting equipment, incorrect footwear, overtraining, and trauma. There are generally two types of injuries; acute and chronic. Acute injuries tend to be the result of trauma, such as being hit with a baseball, a rough tackle in football, or falling off a bike. Chronic injuries occur over a period of weeks or even months, and often come from overuse, repetitive movements, or poor form.
While you may not see them on TV, more and more sports teams are employing the services of acupuncturists to help keep their athletes in shape and injury-free. In addition, many athletes use acupuncture on their own. Whether you’re a paid athlete or engage in your sport just for fun or conditioning, acupuncture has a lot to offer.
Acupuncture for Sports Injuries
If you’re an injured athlete, acupuncture can help you in a number of ways. Some of the most common sports injuries include ligament sprains and muscles or tendon strains. These injuries can be painful, but also may be inflamed, swollen, and associated with reduced mobility. For both acute and chronic injuries, many injured athletes have found that acupuncture treatments can be helpful beyond the conventional wisdom of R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). With many injuries, pain relief is a priority, and acupuncture can be an effective treatment in many instances, because it increases the circulation of chemicals in your brain, called endorphins, which act like your body’s own opioid system.
Acupuncture can also decrease inflammation associated with your injury. Researchers have found that the concentration of inflammation-fighting white blood cells are increased by about 40 percent in the areas where acupuncture needles are placed. Acupuncture treatments boost your circulation overall, and coupled with the decreased inflammation, it can speed up the time it takes to recover and get back to your sport.
Acupuncture can also help your musculoskeletal system in the form of better range of motion and decreased swelling and bruising after an injury. In addition, when directed at knots, trigger points, or muscle spasms, acupuncture helps relax tight muscles and increase your mobility.
Athletic Performance and Your Overall Health
Many athletes that use acupuncture do so because it helps their performance and keeps them healthy. Acupuncture is all about your body’s energy, and regular treatments naturally enhance your energy to help recover faster after workouts or competition. In addition, acupuncture is relaxing and used as a treatment for insomnia. Better sleep translates into better energy, and hopefully better athletic performance. Furthermore, scientists have found that acupuncture can strengthen your immune system.
When it comes to keeping your head in the game, acupuncture may also help. Researchers have found that acupuncture alters your brain chemicals to relieve stress. It can be used as a method to relieve pre-game anxiety. In addition, your mental performance can get a boost from a few sessions on the acupuncture table. Athletes report better focus, self-confidence, and feeling more relaxed before their competition as a result of their treatments.
The Acupuncturist’s Toolbox
While all acupuncturists perform acupuncture, most also offer a number of healing methods from the tradition of Chinese medicine. You may have seen Michael Phelps and many other athletes during the Olympics in Rio with marks on their bodies from cupping. Used to speed up recovery, heal sore muscles, and athletic injuries, cupping involves the use of glass or plastic cups in which a vacuum has been created. A little like a reverse massage, the cups pull your skin, fascia, and muscles and breaks the tiny capillaries at the surface. This promotes healing, enhances circulation, opens your pores, and removes toxins.
A sports acupuncturist may also apply a mild electrical current to the needles to make the treatment more effective. They may also perform ear acupuncture, which is especially useful in pain relief and dealing with stress. Most acupuncturists are also trained in Chinese herbal medicine, and can prescribe an herbal formula to support your energy, speed healing, or treat other health conditions that you may have. They are also trained in dietary counseling to treat specific health issues.
The bottom line is that whether you’re a weekend athlete or a major competitor, acupuncture has a lot to offer. It can help support and speed up healing and relieve pain if you’re injured. It can boost your energy so you can sustain heavy workouts, and help with your mental game in the form of stress relief and better focus. If you’re looking for a way to up your game, acupuncture may give you the edge you need.