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A Collaborative Effort: Acupuncture for Athletes

Guest post by Vita Yee, L.Ac.

Vita Yee, L.Ac.

Vita Yee, L.Ac.

Acupuncture Helps Athletes Like You!

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an Olympic athlete, whether you dance for the SF Ballet or for fun, as long as you move, you’re going to put your body to work under stressful and challenging conditions.  We all juggle extremely full lives, and want to perform at our very best in all situations.  Acupuncture can be a powerful tool to help keep us tuned for optimal health so we can continue to do what makes us happy!

Acupuncture is part of a comprehensive natural health care system that has been used for thousands of years to preserve health as well as diagnose, treat and prevent illness.  According to Chinese medicine theory, optimal physiological function and health depend on the proper circulation of nutrients, substances and energy through a network of “channels” or “meridians” in the body.  Like a very complex and extensive roadmap, this network connects every organ and part of the body, providing balance, regulation and coordination of anatomy and physiological processes.  By inserting very fine needles into specific acupuncture points along these channels of circulation, we can influence the physiological functioning of the body.  Acupuncture activates the natural, self-healing abilities of the body through the stimulation of  “acupoints.”

In my clinic, I use acupuncture for a variety of conditions, including traumatic injuries, post-surgery rehab, and musculoskeletal and constitutional imbalances.  It is often effective for relieving pain and muscle spasm and improving circulation to tense or injured tissues.  I find acupuncture especially effective for acute injuries (like sprains and strains) as well as chronic injuries which have responded poorly to other types of treatment.

Here are some good reasons to try acupuncture!

1. Acupuncture relieves pain:  According to Chinese medicine, energy is constantly moving through the body. When it is circulating properly, we feel balanced and strong. When energy is blocked or stagnated, we experience it as pain, dysfunction and disease. Western Medicine studies have shown that acupuncture leads to the release of endorphins1, natural painkillers that help reduce pain2 and promote an increased sense of wellbeing.

2. Acupuncture reduces inflammation: Acupuncture sends signals through the peripheral and central nervous systems to stimulate a healing response.3 Reducing inflammation and improving the circulation of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood flow into the injured tissue allows for increases in range of motion, helping us move better!

3.  Acupuncture restores homeostasis: Athletes train hard and for extended periods of time, which can lead to muscular and physiological imbalances.  Treating specific acupoints of injured or imbalanced muscles resets the communication between the muscles and the brain, reducing pain and restoring proper muscle function.4 Restoring balance to complimentary muscle groups releases pressure on joints and nerves, which allows the body to move more freely and efficiently and, ultimately, prevents extreme wear and tear on the body.

4.  Acupuncture enhances sports performance:  The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports that the use of acupuncture in resistance and endurance sports activities increases muscular strength and power.  The study also suggests acupuncture improves the hemodynamic parameters of endurance athletes.5

5. Acupuncture improves blood flow:  Blood flow decreases as we age and can be impacted by trauma, injuries, and disease.  A study from UCLA Medical Center concludes that one reason acupuncture is effective is due to its ability to increase the release of nitric oxide throughout the body.6 Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which opens up the arteries and allows for more blood flow to your heart and other internal organs.  This is significant because everything the body needs to heal is in the blood, including oxygen, nutrients that promote good tissue health, immunity support, hormones, natural analgesics, and anti-inflammatories. Restoring proper blood flow is vital to promoting and maintaining health.

6. Better quality of life:  Perhaps the most important systemic effect of acupuncture is its ability to reduce stress. Research from Georgetown University Medical Center suggests that acupuncture significantly reduces levels of a protein linked to chronic stress, which may help explain the sense of well-being that many people receive from acupuncture.7 A preliminary report in 2004 found that acupuncture increased nighttime melatonin production and total sleep time.8 The patients who received acupuncture fell asleep easier, were less restless at night, and were less stressed.  The body repairs itself at rest, so sleeping well is vital for improved athletic performance!

Chinese medicine requires us to look at health with a different perspective. It operates under the premise that our bodies are constantly seeking balance and strength naturally.  In this context, health is a dynamic result of nurturing, supporting and cultivating the inherent intelligence of the body to do its own job.  Whether you are experiencing a chronic problem, a recent injury or want to achieve optimal health, restoring balance is the key to your well-being.

If you’ve got more questions, you can find me at!

BONUS: Acupuncture + Physical Therapy:  A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine showed that the integration of acupuncture and physical therapy to treat frozen shoulder led to a better outcome than using only one method.9




4 Callison, M.  “The Effect of Motor Point Needling on Painful Shoulder Conditions: Range of Motion and Manual Muscle Testing.” [Unpublished] 1997.