Acupuncture Reverses the Stressful Effects of Running

During my acupuncture training, I discovered it helped my running--it loosened up my tight IT Band and helped me feel relaxed yet energized at races. I experimented on myself and my friends and we became convinced it was our secret weapon to improving performance and recovery. Acupuncture has long been a tool that elites use, but regular folks like ourselves can see great benefit from it as well. Keep reading to find out how it can help you.

 Former NFL fullback Tony Richardson had an acupuncturist travel with him so he could have treatments pre- and post-game. Photo courtesy of Michael Nagle, NYT

Former NFL fullback Tony Richardson had an acupuncturist travel with him so he could have treatments pre- and post-game. Photo courtesy of Michael Nagle, NYT

 

1. Sports Injury

Acupuncture is used to increase blood flow, improve healing, and activate the body's pain perception and modulatory system. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, substance P, GABA, acetylcholine, and dopamine are among the most important mediators of pain and vasodilation that acupuncture stimulates. 

 Injuries such as achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and IT Band syndrome can be treated by reducing inflammation and loosening muscle knots and adhesions especially in the calves. Acute sprains and stress fractures are serious injuries that require rest and time to heal, but pain can be easily managed, and healing promoted, while possibly decreasing your time out of commission.

I also use auricular acupuncture and ear indwelling needles for an extra boost. The ATP (auricular trauma protocol) and the BFA (battlefield acupuncture protocol) used by the US Military are two of my favorites. They utilize points corresponding to the body's thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, adrenal gland, and sympathetic nervous system. With indwelling needles, you can wear the needles in place for 3-5 days and even race in them, to get the full benefit.

**But by waiting until injured, you are really missing out on the full benefits of acupuncture treatment during training**

2. Maintain Flexibility

Cupping and gua sha are two methods to release myofascial contractions. Over time, scar tissue builds up that can hamper mobility, later leading to other injuries and muscular imbalances. By releasing that scar tissue, we can restore proper function. Similarly, by utilizing these methods on a regular basis, we can keep mobile before any scar tissue takes hold. It can really boost your stretching and foam rolling strategy, especially in times of higher volume training.

 

 Michael Phelps normalized cupping during the Olympics when people kept asking about the funny circles on his back (and the Chinese divers)? Photo courtesy of Newsweek

Michael Phelps normalized cupping during the Olympics when people kept asking about the funny circles on his back (and the Chinese divers)? Photo courtesy of Newsweek

3. Boost Energy

If you've trained for a marathon or ultra distance you are well aware of how fatigue sets in as you are pushing your body to new distances and speeds on a regular basis. While the importance of resting and avoiding overtraining should not be understated, there is some amount of fatigue that is normal. In chinese medicine terms, you are depleting your kidney qi or vitality, and by stimulating that qi, we improve energy. In western medicine terms, I liken this to increasing endorphins and neurotransmitters. I started doing these treatments the week of big races on runners and they LOVED it. It is by far their favorite and they ask for it by name.

 

 Acupuncture on the sidelines. Photo courtesy Valerie Truong

Acupuncture on the sidelines. Photo courtesy Valerie Truong

But don't just take my word for it. Here is a short clip from Mayo Clinic's Acupuncture Clinic highlighting their use of acupuncture to aid athletic performance: