Acupuncture Encourages the Body to Enhance its Natural Ability to Heal
Acupuncture is a time tested modality in which small solid needles are gently inserted into the body in predetermined points that encourages the body to enhance its natural ability to heal. Knowing what it is does not shed any obvious light on how acupuncture may work. In fact it probably creates a plethora of questions. If one were to ask an East Asian Practitioner how acupuncture works the answer could vary greatly. More often than not, the traditional explanation would involve “Qi” (pronounced “chee”) and “Meridians”. Essentially, in East Asian Medicine there is a concept that a vital energy called “Qi” flows throughout the body in specific patterns called “Meridians”. When Qi flow becomes disrupted symptoms of illness begin. Acupuncture is used to return the flow of Qi to its natural pattern and the symptoms of illness dissipate.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest and now one of the fastest growing forms of natural medicine. What makes Acupunture stand out as one of the prominent forms of natural medicine today? To start with, Acupuncture is virtually painless, has little to no side effects, and can be used in conjunction with conventional medicine.
Acupuncture also has the function of hastening healing, decreasing inflammation, and increasing range of motion!
Acupuncture is a part of East Asian Medicine and was the primary form of health care in Asia for thousands of years. Acupunture has many natural medicine applications. It is widely used in pain management and treating headaches, back pain and arthritis. Actually one of the most common acupuncture treatments is for the relief of morning sickness associated with pregnancy. Some acupuncturists even focus on cosmetic practices. To an athlete, acupuncture can be like applying oil to a squeaky hinge and yield greater physical flexibility.
Acupuncture Points Used for Pain Management often Correlate to "Trigger Points" in Sports Medicine
In regards to Sports Medicine the acupuncture points utilized for management of pain often correlate to what are called “trigger points” which are used by massage therapists, physical therapists, and medical doctors. Trigger points are predetermined areas found on the body that people tend to develop pain, tight binding musculature, and if pressed, illicit pain along a similar pattern. A common example of a trigger point is when a tension headache develops and if the shoulders are massaged the pain will subside. These trigger points can cause a large amount of pain and discomfort in athletes and are highly responsive to treatment by acupuncture. In fact in a study, 92% of trigger points correlated to acupuncture points within a 2 cm radius. Of those almost 80% shared similar pain referral patterns. So trigger points and acupuncture have quite a bit in common.
Acupuncture for Repetitive Stress Injuries
Other than just simply “oiling the hinges”, acupuncture can be a vital modality in the treatment of many common sports injuries. For example, shoulder pain from repetitive stress injuries is an excellent reason to visit the acupuncturist. Often athletes will develop shoulder pain diagnosed as tendinitis or bursitis which can put them out of the game. The part of the word “itis” is indicative of inflammation and as mentioned earlier, acupuncture can be a saving grace with inflammation.
Another common sports injury that athletes face that an acupuncturist can really stick it to is “Runner’s Knee” also known as IT Band syndrome. In many athletes that do leg intensive cardio, such as running, hiking, or soccer, a band of connective tissue along the outside of the leg can become pathogenically hypertonic (fancy words for tight or overdeveloped) and present as pain within the knee. Acupuncture, especially acupuncture with electrical stimulation can be the tipping point for healing to an athlete who is also involved in proper structural correction therapies.
An Acupuncturist on Your Team
Every athlete should use an acupuncturist to keep them at their sharpest. The addition of an acupuncturist to the health team can prove to be an athlete’s greatest tool. Professional baseball players, Olympic athletes, Professional Triathletes and other athletes have been compelling advocates for acupuncture. Having an acupuncturist on your team could mean the difference between enjoying a lifetime of activities versus fighting to stay off the bench.
What Else are Acunpuncture Needles Doing?
In addition to returning the flow of Qi to its natural pattern, the question remains, what else are the needles doing? When needles are inserted, an increase in adenosine occurs locally. Increased adenosine leads to inhibition of pain and inflammation as well as an increase in relaxation. It is also very common to have an electrical current put through the acupuncture needles which provides additional pain relief through a release of local endorphins. In short, acupuncture will decrease the irritation of trigger points according to many studies. With a decrease in trigger points an obvious decrease in pain occurs. Also the body will feel much “looser” which will allow for an increase in range of motion.
How to Choose an Acupuncturist
It is best to do research to find the right acupuncturist for an athlete. Just like in allopathic medicine, acupuncturists often have a focus in practice. Many practitioners focus on women’s medicine. Actually one of the most common acupuncture treatments is for the relief of morning sickness associated with pregnancy. Some acupuncturists even focus on cosmetic practices, while others opt to remain as general practitioners. To find an acupuncturist that has a focus in sports all you have to do is ask local practitioners. A few key things the author recommends is asking if trigger point acupuncture is performed, does the acupuncturist utilize orthopedic testing, and does the practitioner have experience with athletes. In the author’s opinion it is also extremely important to go to an acupuncturist certified by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine). This ensures the highest level of education in acupuncture and prevents a patient from walking into a clinic that a practitioner has only spent a weekend learning what takes acupuncturists 4 years achieve.
Adrian Hillyer is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Massage Practitioner in the State of Washington. His clinic focuses on sports acupuncture helping professional and amateur athletes attain their health goals naturally. Adrian also enjoys studying martial arts, practicing gymnastics, rock climbing, and running. He has been training in traditional martial arts for 20 years and brings the dedication and discipline he has learned from martial arts into his alternative medical training. He currently volunteers at his local YMCA instructing an adult Karate class. Other hobbies Adrian enjoys are yoga, hiking, backpacking, and spending time with his family.