Many people from different parts of the globe are aware that acupuncture has been practiced for centuries. It is branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has been passed from one generation to another because of its healing wonders.
For the benefit of those who are not fully familiar with it, acupuncture is a treatment that uses sterilized disposable needles inserted on specific parts of the body to treat certain ailments. Moreover, acupuncture is also known to offer specific benefits including:
Relief from Pain
Inserting therapeutic needles on specific points including injured muscles stimulates the body to produce pain-relieving chemicals. This includes the brain, spinal cord and the site of the trauma. These chemicals are called endorphins and opioids. When they are released, they will cause the feedback channel to block sensory signals from the source of the pain to the brain. As a result, it reduces the degree of pain that the brain perceives.
The microtrauma produced by the insertion of needles stimulates the body to release chemicals that cause the blood vessels to dilate (vasodilation to enhance the flow of chemicals through it. It is a natural anti-inflammatory response that removes inflammatory mediators from the site of the injury and stimulate the secretion of healing mediators.
Release of Trigger Points
Aside from its ability to activate the body’s mechanisms to fight inflammation and relieve pain, acupuncture is also capable of loosening tightened muscles or trigger points. These are spots that develop when a number of muscles fibers over-contract in one region.
Applying acupuncture in trigger points causes contracted muscles fibers to relax. It will result in increased blood flow and efficient delivery of oxygen and life-giving nutrients to the cells in the body. It reduces the electrical activity of contracted muscles and allow them to relax.
With its capability to deliver the benefits we’ve discussed; acupuncture has a big potential to accelerate an injured athlete’s rehabilitation and return to training. Its ability to modulate pain and reduce inflammation will certainly give an injured athlete the opportunity to resume physical conditioning and training at an earlier time.
Trigger point release is a good example for it.
Trigger points are not an unusual occurrence in sports activities. They are a typical result of repetitive, eccentric or concentric activity. They are usually associated with pain. Sudden pain due to muscle spasm or contraction can result from overloading a muscle, stretching it beyond its normal limit, or increasing its activity without proper warm-up.
Trigger points can develop into nociceptive pain. It’s a type of ache that reduces a person’s range of movements. It can trigger changes in their gait patterns and can make the body lose a lot of functions.
Trigger points are a common thing between acupuncture and sports injuries.
Take this case in point.
While doing warm-up exercises before a game, a football player suddenly experienced hamstring pain. Upon examination, a medical team, found that the player, a valuable member of their team, had serious injury which included a torn muscle. Immediate intervention was necessary as the team didn’t have enough time for prolonged rehabilitation. Manual treatment wasn’t an alternative either as it might only worsen the pain.
An instantaneous onset of pain associated with limb movement failure indicated the inflammatory and mechanical aspects of the player’s injury. As an emergency measure to relieve his pain, he was given acupuncture needling in the trigger points of his hamstring muscles as well as his bladder meridian. It is the meridian that works to relieve pain in the lower limb.
The game was set to begin in four minutes, and the team had but a little window of time to administer treatment. But after the treatment session, the player’s pain subsided dramatically with his ability to move fully restored. The player was able to play the entire match without adverse effects. Immediate intervention through acupuncture can be an effective way to relieve pain without adverse effects.
Trigger point acupuncture can also be an effective way to treat acute after-training muscle spasms. You may also apply it when you want your muscles to relax. Acupuncture is generally a better, more gentle approach to soothe aching muscles because unlike massage or manipulation, it doesn’t cause muscle contraction and further pain.
This implies that trigger point acupuncture and sports injuries can go together in a harmonious way.
The Benefits of Acupuncture to Athletes
Aside from its ability to treat body pains effectively, acupuncture has the least side effects when compared to prescription medicine and herbal supplements. It is an attribute that works to benefit of athletes because their training and performance can be adversely affected by the side effects of drugs.
Acupuncture can have minor side effects too. But these are reversed immediately as the needles are removed.
The Benefits of Acupuncture in the Rehabilitation of Chronic Sports Injuries
Chronic injuries like tendinopathy comprise about 30 to 50% of known injuries in any sport. It causes so much pain with movement it can put you down for almost three years. It begins as an inflammation of a tendon injury or tendonitis. When attempts to treat it fails, the injury becomes chronic due to repeated microtrauma and degeneration of tendon tissues.
Chronic pain and the risk of aggravating the tendinopathy can stop athletes from training or pursuing their training regimen.
With the help of acupuncture, pain can be reduced. It is one solution that enables injured athletes to their rehab which involves subjecting the tendon to eccentric loading.
Patellar tendinopathy can prevent athletes from playing for a long time. But according to an acupuncture study, a semi-pro rugby player whose quadriceps muscles were wasting was no longer able to train by any means. He was given acupuncture treatment to alleviate his pain and to enable him to train again.
After six acupuncture sessions, more than 50% of his pain was gone and his pain became less frequent. The intervention allowed him to perform gentle aerobic exercises and made him able to do eccentric training and perform rugby-specific exercises.
Another unpleasant sports injury is called Achilles tendinopathy. It comprises about 11% of all running injuries. Yet, it is one of the most difficult sports injuries to treat. This type of injury is often associated with impaired gait and limping due to persistent pain.
Case in Point:
A marathon runner who was suddenly inflicted with acute Achilles tendinopathy was given acupuncture treatment that lasted four weeks. The body can treat itself from this ailment with simple rest. But results of the acupuncture treatment showed evidence that acupuncture had helped to promote healing within the tendon. It also made possible the application of long-term maintenance by way of unconditional loading.
After a week, the pain increased after eccentric exercises were introduced. But with continuous acupuncture treatment, his pain reduced making manual treatment and exercise regimen possible. After the fourth week, the athlete was able to perform eccentric exercises. At this point, he was on the road to recovery.
The use of acupuncture hasn’t gone through extensive research. Yet, it has been used to treat chronic ankle pain and ligament sprains. It is a separate issue from aches in tendons and muscles, but it is certainly not a reason why acupuncture shouldn’t work on ligament injury. Additionally, acupuncture for sports injury is acceptable considering the number of instances it has relieved athletes from pain.
Based on historical observations, acupuncture has been able to reduce pain and allow the restoration of a range of movements after six sessions. It is a manifestation that despite of a diagnosed injury, acupuncture is still beneficial especially if the symptoms are of nociceptive or inflammatory origin.
Acupuncture can be considered as an auxiliary to rehabilitation and treatment for pain and inflammation. The absence of side effects makes it a more ideal approach to the alleviation of pain resulting from sports injuries.
Acupuncture has been seen to treat pain, and many people and situations could attest to it. You should appreciate acupuncture as a significant part of your treatment regimen.
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