3 Reasons Why Every Athlete Should Get Acupuncture
For the first time ever the 2014 Tour de France REALLY caught my attention as it was the first time I had ever heard acupuncture mentioned in relation to the athletes. Astana was the only team to take their own acupuncturist to the Tour – and one of their cyclists Vicenzo Nibali won! This Wall Street Journal article explains how the team used acupuncture almost every day, twice a day, to recover from training and to keep them from getting injured.
My first experience with acupuncture was from a running injury I had when I was in college. I wish I had known about it years before when I was running and swimming competitively. I had many injuries, and was out almost my entire senior year of swimming due to a rotator cuff injury. From that very first acupuncture treatment I was blown away by how specific it targeted my pain. It far exceeded any other treatment I had received, and was the reason I pursued it as a career.
Being an athlete my whole life, I know and understand the body well. I know what it takes mentally and physically to stay focused and dedicated to your training. The love of a sport is like nothing else and can motivate you to stay committed through any challenge that presents itself and in many cases to the point of injury. I can empathize with my patients when they want to continue training through pain and injuries. It has been my mission to get people healthy quickly so they can continue to do what they love. Acupuncture is an amazing tool to recover from hard workouts, speed up healing from injuries, and keep the body functioning at its optimal level. Read on to find out why every athlete should be getting acupuncture.
1) Helps the Body Recover & Increases Athletic Performance:
Acupuncture helps your body recover from a hard workout by minimizing muscle fatigue. A 2008 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that those who received acupuncture for muscle soreness reported less pain 1-2 days after they exercised compared to those in the control group. It also increases circulation to the muscles and tendons, which in athletes are often stressed and overworked. Tendonitis conditions are so common because tendons do not get a lot of blood supply. Everything needed for your body to heal itself is in your blood, so when you increase blood flow, you increase healing.
Acupuncture, especially using motor points, turns ‘on’ muscles that have been inhibited (or turned ‘off’) by adjacent muscles. A motor point is a small dime-sized central area of the muscle where the nerve enters the muscle belly. It has the most effect on that muscle, so a small area can create a big change. The motor points ‘reset’ dysfunctional muscle spindles and allows the muscles to rebalance themselves, which increases strength, flexibility, and range of motion almost immediately. When everything is working synergistically, the muscles are able to fire and perform optimally.
Some Clinical Study Stats!
- A study found that acupuncture prior to activity resulted in improved maximum heart rate, oxygen consumption, and blood lactic acid buildup. ( http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2014/05/01/acupuncture-helps-athletes-fight-the-pain )
- A single acupuncture treatment improved isometric quadriceps strength. ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20499248 )
- A study found acupuncture to increase the subjects anaerobic threshold and have better regulation of heart rate and blood pressure. ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1428381 )
2) Helps the Body Heal Faster from Injuries:
Acupuncture reduces pain and inflammation. It helps your body release endogenous opiods, which are natural pain-killing substances you already have in your body. This is important especially for athletes who do not want to take pharmaceutical drugs that carry with them side effects and can impede training. In one study from the University of Michigan (my alma mater!) found acupuncture had an affect on the brain’s ability to regulate pain over a long period of time (published by the University of Michigan Health System in Journal of NeuroImage, Vol. 5, No. 83, 2009).
The acupuncture needles create a tiny micro-trauma, which sends fresh blood and cells to the area to clean it up. Your body is the most amazing machine ever created, and has the ability to heal itself. Acupuncture directs the energy to the right places so it can heal itself faster so you can get back on the playing field.
Acupuncture decreases muscle spasms and breaks up adhesions or scar tissue that can impede blood flow and create imbalances. For optimal performance, your body needs to work and move smoothly through movements. Scar tissue and muscle imbalance can create restricted movement, less strength, and muscle compensation. Acupuncture resets dysfunctional muscles and increases flexibility and range of motion, which not only heals injuries but also prevents future ones.
3) Improves Total Body Functioning:
Acupuncture balances every organ system in your body; which helps it perform at its peak potential. It improves energy, increases circulation, enhances sleep, strengthens the immune system, and decreases stress. Staying healthy and preventing colds and flus during the seasons is very important and Acupuncture positively affects your immune system by helping the body to increase its level of T-cells, which are the cells that destroy bacteria and viruses.
Acupuncture improves your energy by balancing your organ systems so they are working equally and synergistically. When one system is not being over-taxed and fatigued, it allows allows for better nutrient absorption and distribution as well as overall energy expenditure. Your endurance will increase and your ability to recover will improve.
Research has shown that acupuncture increases serotonin (aka feel-good neurotransmitters) in your brain. It also brings you from stress mode (sympathetic) into relaxation mode (parasympathetic) by calming your nervous system. Being relaxed and feeling good emotionally results in enhanced clarity, focus, and ability to handle physical and mental stress. It also allows for better quality and quantity of sleep, so you wake up feeling rested and ready for the day. Your best healing occurs in your sleep, so a good nights sleep is important for overall performance.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” You will save a lot of time, energy, and tears by preventing injuries versus trying to repair the damage later. It’s much easier to make sure your tires are properly inflated than it is to replace a blowout. Take care of yourself; train hard, eat well, rest up, and get acupuncture. Your body will thank you.
Best in Health,
Bonus Stats! A few pro-athletes who use acupuncture:
- Ironman World Champions Craig Alexander & Chrissy Wellington
- 7-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong
- NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal & Kobe Bryant
- NFL stars Brett Favre, San Francisco 49ers Steve Young and Jerry Rice, New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Miami Dophins quarterback Chad Pennington
- Canadian speed skater and bronze Olympic medalist Kevin Overland
- US gymnast and Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney
- US bronze 400M medalist runner Dee Dee Trotter took her acupuncturist with her to the 2012 Olympic games
- My favorite: Amy Acuff, Olympic high jumper and fellow acupuncturist!