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Acupuncture & Physical Performance

Professional athletes around the world are turning to Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for performance enhancement, injury prevention, and injury recovery. Of course, you don’t have to be a professional to reap the benefits. Many of my patients are healthy active people who wish to stay that way, and Chinese Medicine is here to help.

This is not a new secret, as Martial artists have been using Chinese medicine for thousands of years to keep their bodies and minds in top competitive shape.

So, why is it that more professional athletes are choosing this ancient medicine? Many studies have been performed on acupuncture in the past decades, and it is proven to be an effective form of medicine, not just another form of quackery.  It is an all-natural approach, with no side effects, and a healthy performance enhancer.

Whether you are a professional athlete or an active enthusiast, your performance and your health can benefit from acupuncture in many ways.

  1. Increased recovery time after workouts.
    Acupuncture increases the flow of blood and nutrients to tired fascia and muscles, can effectively and quickly increases recovery times, and can reduce muscle pain and soreness. Tour De France champion Vincenzo Nibali was treated with acupuncture daily during the arduous 3 week race. He attributes his success to the acupuncture providing his body with the ability to recover quickly on a daily basis.
  2. Active muscle balancing
    Practice makes perfect.” While this saying is true, repetitive use and strengthening of the primary muscles cause weakness in the opposing muscles. Because our bodies are always trying to stay in balance, the weak muscles tighten and the fascia shortens in an attempt to keep the body in balance. This imbalance causes a lot of strain on the joints and skeletal attachments of the muscles. A skilled acupuncturist can identify muscles that are tight due to weakness, and muscles that are tight due to overuse and restore balance to the body. In every movement of our body, there are several muscles that work together to achieve the same goal. Within these synergistic groups, there is a primary muscle responsible for the movement. It is not uncommon for these primary muscles to get overworked and fatigued. When this happens, they stop firing properly. Acupuncture can reactivate the primary movers and keep your body functioning at peak performance.
  1. Injury prevention
    Every sport and athletic endeavor pushes the human body to its limits, increasing the chance for injury. The most common injuries suffered by athletes are over-use injuries. These types of injuries don’t happen overnight, but occur slowly over time. Many athletes are unaware that the injury is occurring until it gets severe enough to cause pain and visible damage. Many of the injuries involve the connective tissues of our bodies. These tissues include tendons, ligaments, and vertebral disks. These connective tissues, also called fascia, have less blood and fluid supply than other tissues such as muscle and bone. Acupuncture can effectively open the microvacules, the functional unit of connective tissuei, and promote healing and reduction of inflammation.
  2. Immune support
    Any athlete knows that there is nothing worse than having to take a break in training due to a pesky cold. Training and playing hard uses a lot of the body’s resources that would otherwise be used to fight off seasonal germs that cause the cold and flu. Many athletes train rain or shine, and being exposed to adverse weather conditions can further compromise the bodies immune system. Getting regular acupuncture has been proven to improve immunity to seasonal bugs, and keep athletes training and playing strong all year round.
  3. Increased performance during workouts and competitions
    Acupuncture can help muscles to fire properly by increasing proper blood flow to the muscles, and activating the muscles motor points. Pre-performance needling has been used on athletes for thousands of years. By activating muscles with a quick treatment, the neuromuscular junction is primed, and the body’s nervous system is focused on the muscles that need to be performing at peak levels. It is not uncommon for athletes to use auricular tacks throughout their performance. The tacks are strategically placed on the ears of the athletes to increase neuro-muscular function during competition. Alan Houston of the New York Knicks sparked plenty of skepticism when he announced he was using acupuncture to recover from an ankle injury. Not only did he heal well, but also he started playing better. He made acupuncture a regular part of his training regiment.
  4. Quickly return to training post injury / post surgery
    Professional athlete or not, an injury or surgery can put quite a damper on activity levels. Those who seek out acupuncture after an injury will not only heal faster but heal more effectively and have reduced chances of re-injury, and less of a chance of incurring a new injury due to overcompensation. As described so many times in this article, acupuncture increases blood and fluids to the body’s tissues. This brings the necessary nutrients that tissues need to heal. It also helps clean out old and dead tissues that can get in the way of healing. Scar tissue is an often-overlooked culprit of delayed healing and post surgical pain. Scar tissue is less juicy and flexible that the original tissue that it is repairing. It often lays its fibers in a haphazard fashion, which can interrupt the smooth flow of function. The good news about scar tissue, is that is continuously re-lays itself. Acupuncture has been shown to influence scar tissue to lay in an organized pattern, which reduces pain and improves healing. Ray Emery of the Chicago Blackhawks used acupuncture to help him recover successfully after hip surgery in 2010.
  5. Stress relief and improved sleep
    Balancing a training regiment with the many other factors of life can be stressful. There is often very little time for rest, and a stressed out, tired athlete will not perform at his/her best. Of all the studies performed on acupuncture, it has been proven over and over again that it is extremely effective in reducing stress and improving quality of sleep. It is beneficial to all athletes to find the time in their schedules for a weekly acupuncture treatment to manage stress, and improve quality of sleep.

Healthy athletes are successful athletes. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine provide a way for athletes to improve their health, improve their performance, and remain injury free.

C. Guimberteau, “The Sliding Mechanics of the Subcutaneous Structures in Man Illustration of a Functional Unit: The Microvacuoles,” Studies of the Académie Nationale de Chuirurgie (2005).

~ Timoni Slusher LAc