Acupuncture for Sports Injuries: Prepare-Compete-Recover
There are about 30 million sports injuries in the UK every year, about one third of which are serious enough to require medical treatment or to affect daily routines. The most common of such injuries are sprains, in which there is a stretch or tear in a ligament, and strains, in which a muscle or tendon is twisted, pulled or torn. Other common sports injuries are:
- Golfers elbow
- Tennis elbow
- Jogger’s nipple
- Runner’s knee
- Shin splints
- Illio-tibial band syndrome
- Hamstring injuries
- Achilles tendonitis
- Plantar fasciitis
- Groin strain
Sports Injuries and TCM
From the point of view of TCM, an acute injury usually involves damage to local meridians resulting in an interruption of the free flow of Qi in that area. This may also have a knock on effect on local blood circulation. Acupuncture is effective at restoring the free flowing circulation of Qi and blood and thus speeding the recovery. Since it can be applied without pressure to the affected area, it has the advantage over conventional treatments of being relatively painless as a treatment for acute injury.
More chronic injuries and those due to overuse will involve some local depletion of Qi as well as a lack of free flow, and treatment here will aim to strengthen Qi as well as restoring free flow.
The holistic nature of TCM means it will also look at any underlying or systemic weakness which may have made the individual more susceptible to injury or slowed their natural healing processes. This is especially relevant for repeated or chronic injury. For example, recurring strains or sprains may suggest that the muscles, tendons and ligaments involved are not getting the nourishment they need to sustain the level of activity required, and this in turn might reflect (to take one possibility among many) an impairment of the body’s digestive system. TCM practitioners are quick to recognise such a weakness and will use acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary advice or other modalities to help to restore the digestive system to optimum functionality. Thus one of the great benefits of TCM as a treatment for sports injuries is its ability to look beyond the immediate injury and to strengthen and regulate the body and mind as a whole, thus enhancing recovery, improving performance, and reducing the risk of future problems.
Is Acupuncture Helpful for Sports Injuries?
Acupuncture is increasingly recognised as an effective treatment for sports injuries, and many professional sportsmen and women use it both to help with injuries and to enhance performance. Many premiership football teams, for example, have a dedicated acupuncturist.
Evidence for the effectiveness of TCM for sports injuries is mounting. For example, a survey of Randomised Control Trials for acupuncture treatment of tennis elbow1 concluded that there is strong evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness, and the World Health Organisation (WHO)2 considers that the efficacy of acupuncture for this condition is proven, and reaches a similar verdict for knee pain and sprain. Other recent research finds acupuncture helpful for conditions such as shin splints3 and runner’s knee.
Athletic Performance and Health
Athletic performance is not just tied to the health of our muscles and bones. It goes much deeper than that. Read the following blog to read more:
1 Trinh el al (2004) Acupuncture for the Alleviation of Lateral Epicondyle Pain: a Systematic Review Rheumatology 43 (9)
2 WHO (2002): Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials
3 Callison (2002) Acupuncture and Tibial Stress Syndrome (Shin Splints) Journal of Chinese Medicine 70: 24-7