Acupuncture for Sports Injuries
Playing sports is a wonderful way to stay in shape and have fun with friends. Whether you are a casual sports player, a weekend warrior or someone who trains hard everyday, acupuncture can be extremely valuable for you: it assists both acute and cumulative injury recovery, helps prevent future injuries and enhances athletic performance and endurance.
Many acupuncture techniques were born from the needs of the martial arts traditions in China. Acupuncture played an important role in keeping ancient fighters in peak condition and it continues to keep modern athletes healthy and active. Some recognizable sports names who use acupuncture regularly are Maria Sharapova, Martina Hingis, Carl Lewis, Charles Barkley and Jim McMahon. Also, many professional sports teams employ acupuncturists to treat injuries and keep players in top condition.
Acute sports injuries
Sports are competitive in nature. When we are competing, we push ourselves beyond our normal limitations, which can result in traumatic injury. No doubt, when this happens, you will want to get back out on the court, field, rink, course or trail as soon as possible and acupuncture can help.
When traumatic injury occurs, first check with an urgent care doctor to be sure that it isn’t serious; fractures, dislocations, ruptured tendons and serious internal injuries should be treated by a medical doctor or hospital. But, after you are released to rest and recuperate, acupuncture is the perfect therapy to augment recovery, reduce pain, and speed healing time.
Common traumatic injuries that acupuncture can treat are:
- shoulder rotator cuff tears and strains
- wrist sprains and strains
- ankle sprains and strains
- knee ligament and meniscus injuries (these are especially common in sports that require a lot of sudden starting, stopping and direction changing)
- vertebral disc inflammation in the neck or back
- strains (pulls) and tears of any muscle or tendon (i.e. hamstring, groin, Achilles tendon)
Cumulative over-use injuries
Some sports injuries are not sudden, but slowly build-up over time due to repeated over-use of a particular joint or muscle. Usually, these types of injuries start out as a nagging dull ache. This is the best time to start getting treatment for these injuries. If you ignore them, they will build-up to become chronic and debilitating problems. Once advanced, these injuries often require more recovery time than acute, traumatic ones.
How do you distinguish between the nagging ache of a cumulative over-use injury and the typical soreness that accompanies working out? Here are 3 general guidelines to help you determine what your ache may be telling you:
- Cumulative injuries are often felt more in joints: shoulders, knees, elbows, wrists, hip joints. Conversely, typical “working-out” soreness is felt more in the muscles.
- With a cumulative injury, the nagging soreness occurs during or very shortly after playing your sport, whereas, typical muscle soreness from training doesn’t begin until 24 to 48 hours later.
- Cumulative injuries will repeatedly occur in the same area week after week, but soreness from working out usually will not.
Common cumulative, over-use injuries that acupuncture can treat are:
- tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow and elbow bursitis
- shoulder tendinitis, bursitis, arthritis and impingement syndrome
- wrist tendinitis
- Achilles tendinitis
- hip bursitis
- illiotibial band syndrome
- knee arthritis
How does acupuncture help?
From the Chinese medical point of view, the body is an energetic collection of functions, not just a mechanical collection of parts. That is to say, we contain Life Energy, also known as Qi (“chee”). One is said to be in perfect health when this energy is flowing unimpeded, and in an adequate amount throughout the entire body. Qi is the basis for the proper functioning of all body processes: it provides structural integrity and stability, physiological efficiency and the potential for healing.
When you sustain an injury, the flow of energy in and around the area becomes disrupted, causing stagnation and pain. This energy stagnation also inhibits the proper circulation of blood and lymph to the area, extending healing times, prolonging swelling and bruising and increasing the need for pain medications.
Acupuncture works directly to free the flow of Qi through these areas of stagnation. This serves 3 main functions to assist healing and speed recovery:
- Increased circulation of Qi decreases pain, inflammation and swelling (all of which are signs of stagnation).
- Enhanced circulation of energy also brings increased circulation of blood and lymph. This means that fresh vital nutrients are more readily available to tissues that need them in order to mend.
- Enhanced circulation also carries dead cells and cellular waste products away from the injured site.
When Chinese herbal medicine is added to the acupuncture treatments, the healing and pain relieving effects are even greater. Herbs for injuries may be applied topically and/or taken internally, depending on the nature of the injury. Massage techniques may also be incorporated after the initial stages of recovery.
Enhancing athletic performance
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine focuses on regulating the flow of energy (Qi) throughout the entire body, to create optimal circulation and function.
What could be possible when your heart, lungs, muscles, tendons and joints are all receiving fresh vital nutrients and being flushed of waste products quickly and efficiently? Better physical performance, enhanced endurance, quicker recovery times and fewer incidents of injury. When added to a proper physical training program, acupuncture is extremely valuable for improving your game. This is what many professionals already know, and why they use acupuncture for injuries, injury prevention and enhanced performance.
(article by Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM, published in Tampa Bay Wellness, Sept 2008)
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