A better understanding and treatment of sports injuries is one of the factors responsible for the improved performance of athletes in the last 20 years. The rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injury nowadays includes a number of choices of therapy such as: ultrasound & laser therapy, transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS), massage, physiotherapy, exercise and muscle stretching, cryotherapy, the use of athletic taping and kinesiotaping, chiropractic care, and acupuncture.
The use of acupuncture to improve athletic performance and recovery from related injuries is not recent. In ancient China, acupuncture was aimed primarily for leaders, warriors and holy dancers. Teachers of Kung Fu were all also practitioners of acupuncture.
Nowadays the effectiveness of acupuncture in the rehabilitation of sports injuries is well-documented. For this reason, athletic clubs are increasingly cooperating with health professionals trained in acupuncture (in England most football clubs use acupuncture).
Athletes are a special category of patients who have particular needs regarding recovery. Injuries must be dealt with quickly, complications must be avoided (hematomas, adhesions, ectopic ossifications) and complete functional ability must be achieved. Relief from pain is one side of the coin. The return to athletic activity and future performance are the other.
Sports, especially championship sports, are significantly stressful on the body (fatigue, injury) and the spirit (focus, self-control, persistence, emotional load). Prolonged exposure to intense pressure (athletic events, overtraining) leads athletes to exceed their body's ability to manage the load correctly. It is common to encounter exhausted athletes with abnormal levels of cortisol and testosterone, non-refreshing sleep, and in a negative mood. It is crucial that they are allowed a necessary period of recovery and they are given the care they need. Optimal performance is a dynamic state that needs constant maintenance, knowledge and monitoring.
Sports injuries – Where acupuncture helps:
In the world of sports, acupuncture is used to treat sports injuries, aid better recovery, decrease fatigue, and improve physical fitness. Experience is no longer enough to justify the practice of acupuncture, especially for professional athletes. Scientific facts are needed to document its application. In the last 30 years the effect of acupuncture has been studied in western Medicine and a number of contemporary clinical studies support the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of sports injuries.
- Is a good treatment option for acute back pain (Ε.Manheimer 2005, Yao-chi 2007)
- Has positive results in tendonitis rotator cuff of the shoulder (J.Kleinhenz 1999, AF.Molsberger 2010)
- Is the suggested treatment for recovery from lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) (J.Davidson 2001, M.Fink 2002, L.Bisset 2005)
- Alleviates pain in chondromalacia patella (runner's knee) (L.Qui 2009)
- Decreases pain in patellofemoral pain syndrome (R.Jensen 1999, M.Bizzini 2003)
- Assists in recovery from femoral adductors syndrome (Yang 1998)
- Has a beneficial effect on tibial stress syndrome (shin splints) (Μ.Callison 2002)
- Decreases pain and offers good functional recovery for plantar fasciitis (heel spur syndrome ) (Zhang 2001, W.Kumnerddee 2012)
There are also many clinical studies indicating that acupuncture can be a therapeutic solution in/for:
- Recovery from shoulder injuries (NJ.Osborne 2010)
- Ligament injuries of the medial collateral knee (Yan 2008)
- Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) /Runner's knee (Ch.Norris 2003)
- Sprained ankles, the most common (14 to 24%) athletic injury (Huan 1999)
- Injury of the Achilles tendon (K.Kubo 2010, VM.Zhang 2012)
- Tendinopathies, acupuncture playing a role in the improvement of tissue perfusion and increased activity of fibroblasts (BS.Neal 2012)
- Recovery from muscular fatigue in performance athletes (ZP Lin 2009)
Other clinical conditions that affect athletes and which can be effectively addressed with acupuncture are:
- Stress management in competitive situations
- Headaches / migraines
Sessions – acupuncture therapy
While 8-12 sessions of acupuncture are needed for the relief of a chronic disease, acute injuries can be improved with just a few therapy sessions. For most patients, continuing treatment is not necessary if the problem has been resolved. However, in chronic situations a small percentage of patients may benefit from regular therapy sessions.
How acupuncture works – facts
- Results in relasing neurohormonal factors (endorphin, enkephalin, endomorphins, dynorphin, neuropeptide Y, serotonin) that play an important role in modifying pain and are linked with the sensation of well-being (Han 2004, Arranz 2007, Zhao 2008, Zhou 2008, B.Lee 2009, JG.Lin 2008, Cheng 2009)
- Promotes analgesia by alpha-adrenergic mechanisms (ST.Koo 2008)
- Increases the release of adenosine (analgesic effect) (Goldman 2010)
- Induces anti-inflammatory activity (FJ.Zijlstra 2003, B.Kavoussi 2007, M.Duarte da Silva 2011)
- Affects the limbic system (emotional brain) that shapes the perception of pain, and calms the excitation of the cortex (rational brain) responsible for stress and anxiety (KS.Hui 2009 & 2010)
- Promotes homeostasis of the neuromuscular unit (Yun-tao Ma 2011).
- Helps in better tissue perfusion and flushing of metabolic by-products. Improves muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009)
- Exhaustion is associated with dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Acupuncture stimulates and supports the endocrine axis (ZH.Cho 2006).
- Exhaustive exercise suppresses normal immune function (Kellmann 2002). Acupuncture has a positive effect on the body's immune response: SIgA immunoglobulin levels in saliva are decreased after intense exercise, acupuncture partially reverses this effect (Y.Matsubara 2010). It has a positive effect on the immune and endocrine response in competition (T.Akimoto 2003). Improves immune regulation of the body (Mori H. 2002, Pavao 2011).
- The anti-stress effect of acupuncture is not to be undervalued (Chan 2002 L.Eshkevari 2011, W.Huang 2011), especially for people experiencing intense competition and seeking maximum performance.
In conclusion: acupuncture triggers the self-healing activities in our bodies. It stimulates the neurohormonal system and affects the endogenous homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.