Acupuncture for Athletic Performance
Acupuncture – A Brief Overview
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, and it is often thought to have originated with Chinese martial artists using this therapy for treatment of injuries. Briefly, acupuncture is considered a form of complementary medicine wherein needles are inserted into particular points in the body, which ultimately alleviates pain and can treat other physical and mental conditions.
Generally speaking, acupuncture is commonly used to relieve musculoskeletal pain, but other forms of pain as well. For example, common conditions that can be treated with acupuncture include low back pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, menstrual pains, dental pain, etc. It can even be used to help reduce side effects of other required treatments, such as nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy or surgery.
Many people are intimidated by acupuncture, and this is totally understandable. It’s not often that the idea of a bunch of needles sticking in your body is appealing. That being said, the needles are extremely thin, so it’s not even close to the size or guage of a needle that you would have when getting a flu shot. Based on my personal experience, it feels more like a little internal pinch, but not like a full on needle penetrating your skin.
Acupuncture for Athletes
As you can imagine, many of these conditions, but mainly the musculoskeletal ones, are commonly experienced by athletes. As a result, acupuncture is a method of treatment that sparks the interest of many athletes. However, given it’s not exactly a “mainstream” form of treatment, many athletes may ignore or simply not be aware of the potential benefits.
So what type of benefits could an athlete expect to see from acupuncture treatment? Unfortunately, this is a very difficult question to answer, as it really depends on exactly what it is you are treating. However, as an overall expectation, it is reasonable to expect lower levels of physical pain, especially if this is muscle or joint pain. Furthermore, by stimulating the area and promoting blood flow, the natural healing process can be accelerated depending on the condition or injury.
So what about performance? The jury is still out on the exact extent to which acupuncture can directly improve performance. One thing is for sure though, if you can reduce pain and recovery times, this in turn opens the door for more training or less competitive time missed. We consider this an indirect benefit to performance, but a benefit nonetheless.
My Personal Experience
I’ve only used acupuncture twice. Once was for long-term effects of an old rib/back injury. I found acupuncture to be good at decreasing my pain levels enough that I could function, move around, and sleep better, but it wasn’t a miracle cure. The second time I used acupuncture was actually for a torn meniscus (cartilage in the knee). Not all of the meniscus receives blood flow, which can make the healing process difficult at times. However, by using acupuncture to target a specific portion of my meniscus and sending electrical currents down the needle, I found my injury was cleared up way faster than expected, and I’m convinced this was a major reason why.
We aren’t saying everyone should use acupuncture, but instead simply want to raise awareness to a point where athletes may recognize this as a form of treatment worth considering. It’s not a drug, it’s legal, it’s safe, and results have been good, albeit varied. At the end of the day, if acupuncture is something you may be interested in, we suggest chatting with your doctor and other athletes who have used acupuncture, and seeing if they think a referral could be worth it for you.