Acupuncture for sports training
Chinese medicine practitioner Katie Molloy explains how acupuncture can benefit you when training for a run.
Whether you’re enjoying leisurely fun runs or training seriously for sprint or distance events, every runner is familiar with two major factors that interrupt training and performance: pain and fatigue.
Though there’s no substitute for adequate rest, good nutrition, and stretching pre- and post- training, acupuncture is widely recognised for its ability to reduce pain and treat injuries, getting you back on the pavement sooner.
Perhaps lesser known is its role in maintaining functional and structural alignment, reducing the risk of further injury, and increasing strength and endurance, potentially adding years to your running career.
As part of a well-rounded training regimen, acupuncture can help you run further, faster, for longer.
Acupuncture for pain relief and managing injuries
Runners may experience pain in the form of muscle aches and stiffness, joint pain, acute injuries like sprains, strains, dislocations or fractures, and more chronic or long-term injuries including shin splints or degenerative joint problems like arthritis.
From the Chinese medicine perspective, pain is understood to be a result of blockages in Qi, or vital energy, in the meridian pathways on the surface of the body. Blocked Qi results in stagnated meridians, triggering pain sensation, and can eventually lead to weakness or instability in muscles and joints. Introducing needles to specific points on the body surface restores free flow of Qi and blood, easing pain and ensuring muscles and joints are well nourished.
It is very common to experience muscle pain and stiffness when starting out as a runner, or whilst your body adapts to increased intensity in training. This is known as DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness, and is caused by pain receptors being triggered by tiny tears in skeletal muscle fibres resulting from strenuous activity. DOMS is usually most intense 24-72 hours after a training session. Acupuncture treatment in this time can reduce pain and encourage healing by increasing blood flow to the muscle, inciting something similar to a histamine reaction, soothing inflammation and assisting removal of waste products from damaged tissue.
Treatment of acute and chronic injuries
As well as reducing pain and discomfort, acupuncture assists in the treatment of both acute and chronic injuries by encouraging blood flow to the injured area, relaxing muscle fibres and reducing inflammation. Treatment once per week whilst managing an injury can often prevent further damage and allow runners to keep up their training, particularly important when preparing for longer distance events.
Recovery and injury prevention
Acupuncture treatment post-event addresses inflammation, muscle fatigue and focuses on treating new or existing injuries that may have flared. Treatment involving insertion of needles may seem invasive, but acupuncture is a very gentle treatment modality. It’s common to feel a small sting as the needle breaks the surface, then a dull or heavy sensation that soon gives way to deep relaxation. Being very fine, acupuncture needles penetrate deep into the muscle belly with minimal aggravation to superficial musculature. Treatment targets the core of the injury and can be administered comfortably (even relaxing!) in the acute phase, or when you’re very sore after an event.
Where there are problems in structure or form, such as misalignment of joints or postural compensations for weakened, sore or stiff muscles, injuries often recur. Regular acupuncture allows freer and more natural movements, in combination with less pain, often allowing for problems with form to be corrected. Regular sessions (once or twice per month) can prevent injury in a healthy runner because muscles and joints are stimulated, more supple and supported by better circulation.
Energy, endurance and athletic performance
Studies show that acupuncture can also improve athletic performance. More than moving Qi through acupuncture channels, a qualified practitioner will use points to encourage tonification of vital substances in your system, meaning you have more usable energy for training, events and recovery. Studies have found acupuncture in healthy athletes to improve maximum heart rate, oxygen consumption and blood lactic acid buildup and removal, facilitating better athletic performance, and more efficient recovery.