The Summer 2008 Olympics were held in Beijing, China, in the country where acupuncture originated thousands of years ago. Perhaps it is no surprise then that this ancient practice is gaining further interest and media attention now that China has hosted a world-class athletic event.
The Olympic Village in Beijing offered free acupuncture to athletes and officials of the games – making it the first Olympic Village in history to do so. Since the presence of the Olympics in China, acupuncture is finally gaining the recognition it deserves as a remedy for sports ailments.
Especially when combined with Western therapy, there is little that acupuncture cannot do to help improve sports injuries. Acupuncture can quickly lessen inflammation, as well as to release pressure and improve blood circulation. Long used for the relief of chronic pain, acupuncture not only provides instant relief from painful injuries, but can also accelerate the healing process by reducing swelling, boosting the immune system, and providing energy and serenity to the patient. Acupuncture has been found to be especially effective in treating tendon and ligament sprains, which are common injuries for athletes.
One of the differences between Chinese medicine and its Western counterpart is that an Oriental medicine diagnosis always focuses on the root of the problem, rather than merely symptoms of the problem. Chinese medicine focuses on the athlete and the injury; in the West, treatment is usually more geared towards just the injury. By centering on the problem’s origins, more complex issues can be resolved and a complete sense of well-being can be achieved through acupuncture. A traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis will include taking the athlete’s history of past injuries into account as well as other health issues, sleeping and eating patterns, and the strength of various systems throughout his or her body.
The goal of most athletic acupuncture treatments is to increase one’s flexibility, circulation, and mental clarity, usually with a specific competition or game in mind. It’s important to have a set mental goal to achieve regarding one’s performance. The acupuncture treatment will not replace an athlete’s warm-up, but rather, complement it. Knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses is key, because the acupuncturist will focus on bolstering specific weaknesses in the body or performance. With the proper questions and diagnosis, a good practitioner can even help alert an athlete to their own physical prowess or areas in need of improvement. Every observable factor is taken into account for a treatment – the athlete’s anxieties, temperature, and fatigue are a few examples of this. If nervous, the athlete will be soothed by the treatment. If already prepped and warmed up, the treatment will focus on flexibility.
A recent 2008 edition of the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine published a study regarding the effects of acupuncture on cyclists. Twenty young (between 18 and 30 years of age) male cyclists participated in this study. These men underwent three tests per week, riding a stationary bike for 20 kilometers as fast as possible. Before each biking session, they received a treatment: some received acupuncture, some received a sham treatment, and some received none, once each in a random order. The statistically significant result was that acupuncture gave higher RPE scores compared to the other tests. The men receiving the real acupuncture treatments completed their cycling tests at a higher acceleration than the others.
Another important draw that acupuncture holds for athletes is the fact that it goes above and beyond merely alleviating an injury. Consistent acupuncture treatments can improve performance and provide more energy. Treatments can support the body during training, help to build muscle mass, promote liver glycogen storage, and to lend the body those bursts of energy that are so integral to a great performance.