A growing number of professional and amateur athletes are embracing acupuncture as a treatment not only for their injuries, but also to help optimize their physical conditioning.
At Alberta College of Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine, we use Acupuncture treatment and Chinese herbal medicine to reduce inflammation and pain, ensure proper tissue healing, prevent and resolve scar tissue, and restore joint functioning.
Sports injuries are common, and vary from simple injuries to major complex traumas. Usually, only soft tissue is damaged, but there can also be fracturing of bone.
Soft tissue injuries include sprains, strains and bruising. A sprain is a partial or complete rupture of a ligament, a strain is a partial tear of muscles and a bruise is a rupture of tissue leading to a haematoma. Any soft-tissue injury can lead to tenderness, swelling, haematoma, scarring, fibrosis and loss of function.
Sports injuries can be caused by trauma as a result of a sudden impact or awkward movement, or can develop over time, often due to continual use of the same joints or muscle groups. Contributing factors can insufficient warm-ups, using inadequate equipment or training too hard for one's current level of fitness.
Prolonged inflammation can cause scar tissue formation and may prevent the patient from ever regaining proper joint mobility. Returning to exercise activity too soon after an injury can lead to repeated injuries of the damaged tissue. However, returning to controlled motion early can promote proper healing.
Most common sports injuries include:
- ankle (e.g. Achilles tendinopathy, sprains)
- knee (e.g. patellofemoral pain syndrome, ligament injuries)
- shoulder (e.g. dislocations, acromioclavicular joint injuries, rotator cuff injuries, frozen shoulder)
- elbow (e.g. tennis, golfer’s)
- wrist (e.g. strains, sprains, breaks)
- leg (e.g. shin splints, stress fractures, hamstring injuries)
- foot (e.g. plantar fasciitis) • groin (strain)
- back (e.g. acute lumbar sprain)
Conventional approaches to sports injuries include RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation), anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics, immobilisation, corticosteroid injections, physiotherapy and surgery.
The aims of acupuncture therapy are to relieve pain, control inflammation, hasten resolution of a haematoma, and accelerate repair. Studies show acupuncture is also effective in restoration of function and recovery of muscle power.
Research shows that, in general, acupuncture can stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. Acupuncture may help sports injuries by:
- stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors (e.g. neuropeptide Y, serotonin), and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Han 2004, Zhao 2008, Zhou 2008, Lee 2009, Cheng 2009);
- delivering analgesia via alpha-adrenoceptor mechanisms (Koo 2008);
- increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties (Goldman 2010);
- modulating the limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network (Hui 2009);
- reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003);
Watch the following video to see this Australian doctor investigates acupuncture and tries it out for his sore knee. Acupuncture research with an fMRI as well as acupuncture and fertility is also profiled.