Acupuncture for Sports Injuries

By Aaron Banfield, R.Ac.

Robin came to me the day after running a half-marathon. “My everything hurts”, he said, especially his legs. Most importantly, he couldn't bend his right knee. Since he had travelled to Victoria by bike, he really needed his knee working to get home.

Fortunately, treating exercise-related injuries is an important part of Chinese Medicine training. It has become very popular with amateur and professional athletes; there was even an official acupuncture program at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I told him I would see what I could do.

Robin wrote me a few days later. "That is probably the best treatment I have ever received, and I've had quite a number of treatments from highly skilled practitioners.  Immediately after the treatment, there was significant improvement- and by the next morning, complete recovery."

Acupuncture treatment of sport injuries mainly involves the technique of releasing myofascial trigger points, combined with stimulating your body's natural recovery processes.

Fascia is a tough connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, organ, bone, nerve, vessel, and cell in our bodies. Ideally fascia is in a fluid/gel like state, but restrictions due to injury or stress (especially what sports therapist Whitfield Reeves calls “micro-traumas” to our tissue) can cause fascia to harden and create trigger points. It is an adaptive and protective change, helping prevent further injury to the area, but it causes pain and loss of mobility.

Once they develop, myofascial trigger points are essentially hyper-irritable areas within muscle that refer pain to other areas. Pain in a certain spot may actually be caused by a trigger point some distance away pulling on your tissue.

Fortunately, trigger points develop and refer pain in predictable patterns. A knowledgeable acupuncturist can quickly determine the trigger points involved in your situation and release them.
This involves inserting fine, small needles into your particular trigger points until the hardening there releases. This is, surprisingly, often a painless procedure as fascia has few nerve endings in it. Sometimes we need to go deeper into the muscle if knots have developed; this can feel like an ache similar to very precise massage on the area.

The effect of the needling is that the fascia recovers its fluid state and muscles regain their softness and elasticity.

However, sometimes there are many trigger points in a pattern of pain and dysfunction. Especially in cases where an injury happens in an area that has been chronically tense, there may be old trigger points that are chronically active and the “injury” is simply new trigger points showing up in the areas affected by them. In this case, several treatments may be needed as we release the new trigger points and then clear the old ones to prevent the same injury from happening again.

At the same time as treating with acupuncture, your practitioner may recommend herbal oils or even internal formulas to assist your body in relaxing the muscles, reducing inflammation, and promoting blood flow. In this way, the effects of the treatment are supported by your body's natural healing abilities