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Acupuncture and Dry Needling for Sports Injuries

Acupuncture for Sports Injuries

Acupuncture and an acupuncture technique called dry needling can support athletic performance, injury recovery and  increased resilience.  Whether you are a professional, college, or high school athlete (or maybe just a weekend warrior), you know that injuries can happen when you least expect it. Sometimes, it’s a traumatic injury and sometimes it is overuse. Every athlete wants to get back on the field, court, or track as quickly as possible.

We tailor the acupuncture for the athlete, based on their training and event schedule and injury history.  We combine neurofunctional acupuncture, such as motor points to activate muscles that might tend towards inhibition, and address myofascial restrictions to help restore optimal range of motion with dry needling, aka ashi points, aka trigger point therapy. In addition to acupuncture with electrical stimulation we might also use gua sha (scraping) therapy, or cupping therapy, manual therapy and movement therapy. Traditional Chinese Medicine can be an ideal treatment to augment recovery, speed up healing, and reduce pain.

How does acupuncture work?

  • Acupuncture works globally and locally. The peripheral and central nervous systems are impacted which triggers a cascade response. Depending on the point or tissue needled, there will be different responses.
  • Needling trigger points to change the length tension relationship of a tight or knotted or painful muscle.
  • Stimulating motor points can pre-performance can support the athlete to have access to increased strength and speed.
  • An injury can cause a physical blockage.   This can be due to fascial restrictions, fluid congestion, decreased blood flow, dysfunctional nerve conduction, which lead to pain and dysfunction. We have several modalities which can help to reduce inflammation, move fluid congestion, increase blood flow and help to remove cellular waste from the injured tissue.
  • In the case of a recurring sprained ankle, we might treat the ankle joint capsule to help improve proprioception, and reduce pain, swelling and inflammation locally.  We might also add motor points of the muscles controlling the movements of the ankle.  Additionally, we might include treatment of the gluteal muscles to help create stability up the kinetic chain. Hopefully this combination, reduces not only the local pain and irritation, but helps to reduce the risk of future sprains.

Acupuncture has been used for many thousands of years to treat musculoskeletal pain and restore physiologic function. One of the oldest known texts, the Huang Di Nei Jing written approximately 2600 BC, delineates needle techniques,  needle retention times, and specific instructions about needling different anatomical tissues, such as bone, tendon, ligament, muscle, flesh and vessels. Since the time of that text, with a continuous written language, there has been a steady stream of written case studies which have evolved the body of knowledge.  Notable,  Tang Dynasty, Dr. Sun SiMiao is credited with documenting the “ah shi” point which translates as “ah! there!”  In the 1970’s Drs. Travell and Simons created two volumes on Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction and their diagnostic criteria was consistent with Dr. Sun SiMiao.  As of 2023, there are over 40,000 studies available on PubMed regarding acupuncture.

According to the Pacific College of Health and Science, “Specific acupuncture styles and techniques were developed to stop pain and dramatically increase recovery time. This tradition continues today, and its use has expanded into competitive athletics that result in similar injuries. Pain is one of the most common complaints in sports injuries followed by reduced function. The whole approach of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture to the treatment of pain and reduced function is to see it as a disorder in the body’s natural state.

“Recent studies show that acupuncture effectively treats sports injuries such as strains, sprains, neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee and ankle pain, swollen muscles and shin splints. In addition to treating the injury, Acupuncture can also improve performance and give athletes a competitive edge.”

Because of this “competitive edge,” many professional sports teams have acupuncturists on staff to help shorten healing time and resolve overuse injuries (i.e., throwing/pitching, tennis elbow/shoulder, track and field injuries, etc.). However, you don’t have to be a competitive athlete to benefit from regular acupuncture treatments.

If you are training for a triathlon or marathon, or you are a regular at the tennis courts or the golf course, you might want to consider regular acupuncture treatments to keep those injuries at bay. Talk to your acupuncturist about different preventative measures to stop injuries before they start or talk to them about a recovery plan if you have already had an acute traumatic injury. They can help you reach your goals of getting back in balance and getting back to the sports you love.

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