In recent years, acupuncture for athletes has been receiving more and more publicity. However, the link between acupuncture and physical performance is not a new one. In China, this ancient therapy has been used by martial artists and soldiers alike to improve their abilities throughout the country’s long history.
Here are the top 10 reasons that acupuncture is great for athletes, and why every athlete should think about getting an acupuncturist on their team:
Acupuncture helps to relieve pain in two ways:
1st to reduce inflammation and its associated symptoms of swelling, heat, and redness.
2nd by affecting the central nervous system and stimulating the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. They work in a similar way to opioid drugs. However, unlike medication, acupuncture does not have any unwanted side effects and can be safely used by people of all ages and fitness levels.
Acupuncture helps to optimize the body’s healing process. It does this by increasing circulation to the site of an injury and relaxing tight muscles and tendons. It can be used between training sessions or after a competition to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Acupuncture can also be successfully combined with other therapies such as clinical sports massage, cupping, chiropractic and physical therapy to complement their effects.
Acupuncture can improve flexibility by reducing muscle tightness, releasing knots and relieving spasms. It also helps to decrease inflammation, swelling and bruising. This, in turn, will relieve aches and pains and increase your mobility and range of movement.
When you are tired, your training suffers. Acupuncture can help you to get a good night’s sleep and avoid daytime fatigue. Acupuncture regulates levels of a hormone called cortisol and serotonin (“the sleep hormone”). Serotonin helps you rest more and improves quality of sleep while Cortisol is the hormone responsible for waking you up in the morning and keeping you active throughout the day. By making sure that your cortisol levels are not too high in the evening and is in balance with your serotonin levels, acupuncture helps to give you a restful night, giving your body the chance to repair, rebuild and revitalize.
By regulating cortisol levels and stimulating endorphin release, acupuncture helps to balance your mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Having treatment before a competition could help you to relax and relieve last minute nerves, allowing you to keep calm and carry on.
When you are well rested and free from stress and anxiety, your focus will improve. Acupuncture has also been linked to changes in the brain wavelengths which are responsible for attention span and concentration.
Chinese medicine views that acupuncture works by influencing something called qi. This is an invisible, intangible substance that flows through the body in channels called meridians. The word qi roughly translates to “energy, ” and by increasing your body’s qi, you can increase your energy levels too. This will allow you to train harder as well as giving better performance in competitions.
Throughout history, acupuncture has been used to increase strength and endurance by athletes and soldiers alike. One of the most famous acupuncture points is Zu San Li. The name Zu San Li means “Leg Three Miles.” This point is reputed to give soldiers the stamina to march “three miles” further. According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture boosts levels of both blood and qi. These work together to give you greater strength and endurance and avoid illness and injuries.
Unlike most other performance enhancing treatments (using foreign substances), acupuncture (using your body’s substance) is not banned by the sports authorities. Therefore you can use it with confidence, whatever level you are competing at.
Acupuncture boost levels of T-cells. These are highly specialized cells of the immune system which is responsible for triggering the immune response and fighting off infections. By optimizing your immune system, you can avoid missing training due to illness and stay in peak physical form all year round.
Acupuncture can speed up the healing of minor injuries before they become more serious. It can also help to identify any weak areas of your body which may need extra care. Taking painkillers can mask pain, meaning that you are putting yourself at risk of further injury. Acupuncture, on the other hand, can make you more aware of your body and its needs so you can protect old injuries and prevent new ones from forming.
Although acupuncture is natural and usually free from side effects, it is a good idea to schedule your first treatment session with plenty of time before a big competition – this will allow you to know how acupuncture affects your body ahead of time. Once you know how acupuncture affects your body, you can begin to incorporate it into your regular training schedule. After just a few treatments you should be able to notice an improvement in your performance as well as your overall health and well-being.
Dr. Marlena Siroki, DACM, L.Ac. is an Acupuncturist in Chicago at Ravenswood Chiropractic & Wellness Center in Andersonville. Dr. Marlena received her Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago. She is a Nationally Board-Certified Acupuncturist and Herbalist and Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, certified by the National Certificate Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.