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5 Ways that Acupuncture Improves Athletic Performance



By Cybil Kendrick, L.Ac.


Asian medicine has been used for centuries to treat many ailments including acute and chronic conditions. Here in the western world, it is probably best known for its ability to treat pain. Asian medical theory is holistic and takes the entire person into consideration when assessing an illness, injury or overall physical and emotional balance for wellness and prevention. To aid in athletic performance, a practitioner of Asian medicine may use several tools to promote health, wellness, or treat an existing condition. All of these serve to help prevent injury and treat acute and chronic injuries. Some of those tools include acupuncture (dry needling is a form of acupuncture), cupping, gua sha, electric stimulation, moxabustion, topical medicines, herbs, etc. There are many benefits to these treatments and below are just a few:


1. Acupuncture is anti-inflammatory

It was discovered in a recent Harvard study that acupuncture reduces pain due to its anti-inflammatory effects. It can also significantly improve circulation of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.“Acupuncture controls inflammation. Recent investigations demonstrate that acupuncture has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. This applies to pain relief, immune system responses, and general inflammation throughout the body.”(1) Inflammation is a key hurdle to getting back to your sport of choice and acupuncture can help with local and systemic inflammation which leads to reduced pain, better lymph and blood circulation and thus quicker recovery time.


2. Acupuncture improves sleep

It has been said time and time again that poor sleep alone can be a health risk leading to a host of diseases, and for athletes it is just as vital. Poor sleep can lead to poor stamina, quicker exhaustion, an increase in stress, anxiety and a weakened immune system (2). Acupuncture treatments can help calm the nervous system, increase serotonin, melatonin and benefit sleep. As stated in a report in the Journal of acupuncture and meridian studies

“In a proposed potential mechanism for acupuncture treatment, various neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, melatonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and β-endorphin, are mediated. As an example, acupuncture increases the contents of gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin in the brain, thus improving sleep quality. Moreover, the endocrine system is affected, resulting in a nocturnal increase in the secretion of endogenous melatonin”


3. Acupuncture prevents injury

Accidents do happen but more often muscle imbalances are a large factor in injuries. Muscle and channel imbalances, hypertonicity of musculature and trigger points are just a few issues that can lead to injury and can be related to patterns from overuse, trauma, compensations, poor posture, etc. Being trained in Sport Medicine Acupuncture I assess a patient to find the areas of over and under active musculature through postural analysis, functional movement patterns, manual muscle and orthopedic tests. Asian medicine considers the health of the person and tissues in general and the practitioner will assess the quality of their Qi and blood, the balance of organ energies as well as muscle tonicity, and functional movement.


4. Acupuncture reduces performance anxiety

As referenced above, it has been found that acupuncture can help calm the nervous system, increase serotonin and melatonin, and benefit mental health. By calming the nerves it allows the athlete to concentrate and focus better and therefore improve performance.


5. Acupuncture improves flexibility

By treating motor points which are like reset buttons for the muscles, and trigger points that are created through trauma, poor postures or overuse, we create a better functioning group of muscles around a joint or functional chain of muscle and fascia. This happens because inhibited/underactive muscles are reactivated and overactive/hyper toned muscles are released and thus function, power and flexibility are increased.


Acupuncture and its foundational theories always consider the whole person which is why it can be so helpful in treating many conditions. For the athlete, whether a weekend warrior or professional, it is a minimally invasive modality that can improve functionality, balance, power, psychology, recovery, more.


Cybil Kendrick, L.Ac.,MSOM, C.SMA, RMT is a licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.) with her masters in Oriental medicine (MSOM) and is certified in Sports Medicine Acupuncture® (C.SMA) and massage therapy (RMT).


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