Acupuncture is particularly well suited to treat sports injuries and is effective for a large variety of them. Muscle strains, overtraining, tendinopathies – acupuncture can help with these injuries and support longer term recovery.
How acupuncture does that, exactly, is still being researched. There are, however, several benefits associated with treatment, as well as an encouraging amount of evidence to back their effects.
The Benefits of Using Acupuncture to Treat Sports Injuries
Sports injuries are primarily characterized by muscle or tendon pain, inflammation, loss of flexibility or range of motion, and loss of performance. The faster these symptoms can be resolved, the faster athletes can return to the field. And if getting back in the game is critical, acupuncture can help in several ways, including:
- Reducing pain – When inserted into the skin, acupuncture needles produce microtraumas (nearly imperceptible injury) that trigger a pain-reducing response from the body. This largely consists of releasing a flood of endorphins and opioids into the blood, and together they can reduce the severity of pain. This biochemical release occurs locally at the needle insertion site and at higher spots in the nervous system hierarchy, including spinal cord and brain.
- Reducing inflammation – The body’s response to needle insertion also includes the release of inflammation-fighting compounds. These compounds signal blood vessels to dilate, which flushes out compounds that signal for inflammation. Further, enhanced blood flow to the injury site accelerates healing.
- Releasing trigger points – Trigger points are areas of muscle that have essentially become “knotted.” This happens when the muscle contracts too much and cannot relax after the muscle is disengaged. Acupuncture has been shown to help release these trigger points when needles are applied to the injury site. In addition, research shows that acupuncture also improves blood flow to areas affected by trigger points.
What Types of Sports Injuries Can Acupuncture Help With?
Acupuncture has been successfully utilized for many types of athletic injuries. They include:
- Muscle strains and tears
- Tendonitis and tendon tears
- Overuse injuries
- Shoulder impingement and rotator cuff issues
- Tennis and golf elbow
- Runner’s knee
- Groin pulls
- Shin splints
- Ankle sprains and strains
Normally, acupuncture is thought of as a treatment for ongoing or chronic pain, and it is effective when used in this way. Some interesting case studies, though, suggest that acupuncture can also be used as an acute form of treatment.
For example, a 2014 case study published in the Journal of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists considered the case of a 33-year-old football player who suffered a sudden bout of hamstring pain while warming up prior to a match. After ruling out anything serious, the team decided to administer acupuncture on the sidelines. The player experienced immediate relief and was able to play the entire match.
Acupuncture is rarely used to deal with acute injuries, but there are reasons to believe that the same mechanisms that support long-term recovery also work with acute injuries.
Acupuncture Can Also Support Injury Rehab and a Quicker Return to Action
Some sports injuries can sideline an athlete for months – or longer – and impair their ability to train and remain in game shape. The pain and inflammation associated with such an injury may persist long after any structural issues can be identified. At this point, the goal is to reduce both enough so that the athlete can resume training.
Acupuncture is an ideal support treatment when placed in this role, given its effectiveness against both inflammation and pain. In fact, there’s another case study to demonstrate this.
Also published in the 2014 edition of the Journal of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists, this case study looked at a rugby player suffering from patellar (knee) tendinopathy. The condition kept the player from training for several months as he couldn’t engage his quadriceps at all without pain. After receiving six acupuncture treatments, pain intensity was reduced by more than 50 percent, and pain was experienced less frequently. Following treatment, the player was soon able to resume training.
Another case study looked at a marathon runner with an acute case of Achilles tendinopathy – a particularly difficult injury to treat in runners that can cause limping. After four weeks of treatment, the runner was able to apply loading to the foot and resume training practices.
These are just two examples but reinforce the idea that acupuncture can help athletes recover from their aches and pains. Perhaps that’s why an increasing number of NFL players – including former Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers – are incorporating the practice into their regimen.
When Administered by a Licensed Houston Acupuncturist, Treatment is Generally Safe for Athletes
Aside from its effectiveness in sports injuries and pain, acupuncture is also prized for its safe profile. For the vast majority of patients, acupuncture poses few risks, but only if treatment is provided by a licensed Houston acupuncturist.
Licensed Houston acupuncturists are trained to target the right acupuncture points during treatment, and to only utilize safe, sanitary practices. This includes the use of single-treatment needles, and needles that are the appropriate size. The acupuncturist’s mission is to deliver effective treatment with minimal discomfort and pain. Licensed Houston acupuncturists are trained to do that.
Athletes are at their best when they’re in motion, but sports injuries interfere with that. The pain, inflammation, and loss of motion can be frustrating to deal with, especially if symptoms are experienced long term. Acupuncture, though, can help resolve those symptoms and do so with minimal risk of adverse effects.