What are sports injuries? | Why acupuncture? | How quickly will I heal? | Acupuncture when?! | What if I broke It? | What if I need surgery? | Print this page
We hear about the benefits of exercise all the time, but when we finally get off the sofa we are often plagued with muscle aches or worse. Whether you are jogging one block, competing in an Ironman, joining a Master’s swim club, playing in a recreational soccer league, playing T-ball with your five-year-old, or learning to surf for the first time, you could strain or sprain something badly enough to take you out of your activity for awhile. When you do, the goal is to get back to your game as quickly as possible. Is acupuncture appropriate after a sports injury? You bet it is!
Sometimes, sports injuries are overuse patterns which develop slowly over time. There is a gradual onset of pain in the shins once you work up to running five miles at a time. Your shoulder starts to ache a few months into your swimming workouts, but only if you go over 1000 meters with crawl stroke. Your elbow hurts at around the 16th hole, is fine the next day, but starts to ache at night on occasion. It is often difficult to know exactly when you injured it, or even when it started to bother you, but eventually it hits critical mass and bugs you all the time, making it difficult if not impossible to keep doing what you love to do.
Sometimes sports injuries are more abrupt. You slip off a hold while climbing, and feel the pop as you strain a finger tendon. You get thrown by a wave, become twisted up in your surf board, and come up with a pulled groin muscle. You turn an ankle sharply while returning that hard back-hand shot on the tennis court. You get off your bicycle after a 90-mile ride and can’t stand up straight.
All of these injuries are soft tissue injuries in which a body part is strained, sprained, or overused. In conventional medicine, the treatment for these types of injuries is rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication, and maybe physical therapy. Many of these types of injuries heal on their own with a period of relative rest, but a percentage of them go on to become chronic conditions. back to top
When soft tissue is injured, the body immediately tightens up surrounding muscles to make a natural splint for the injured area. This is adaptive in terms of minimizing additional injury to the area, but it also decreases blood flow to and from the injured area which slows down the healing process. Tight muscles compress arteries and veins, and they also compress nerves. When a nerve is compressed, the signals from the brain to the muscles or organs supplied by that nerve are weakened. This means the injured muscles or muscles supporting the injured area may not be able to function optimally.
Acupuncture can quickly and painlessly reduce the spasm and splinting in muscles surrounding injured tissue, allowing for better nerve signals and improved circulation. Injured tissue releases a variety of substances into the surrounding area which signal to the body that there is an injury and clean up is needed. These substances are irritants to the local tissue and nerves, and they cause pain and inflammation.
In response to your body’s call for help, white blood cells move into the injured area to begin the process of clearing away damaged tissue and facilitating repair. Adequate blood flow is needed to get the white blood cells into the injured tissue and to clear out the waste as the healing process proceeds. When there is spasm of the local muscles, circulation is reduced due to pressure on the capillaries in the region. When circulation is working more efficiently, your body is able to get rid of this waste more quickly, which means you have less pain and inflammation. back to top
Injured muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones take a certain amount of time to heal – typically 6-8 weeks depending on your age, general state of health, and the severity of the injury.
Acupuncture will not change the amount of time needed for this healing. It will reduce the pain and inflammation associated with the injury. It will improve nutrient and waste exchange so healing is not delayed beyond the “normal” time.
Less pain and inflammation means you can begin you can begin needed rehabilitation sooner, and often improves outcomes for physical therapy. When the healing process is complete, you are ready to go back out and play – not just start your rehabilitation! back to top
There are a variety of schools of thought on this question, but my answer is as soon as possible after the injury! Acupuncture used in conjunction with rest and ice will relieve the pain of soft tissue injury rapidly.
When you are ready to start physical therapy, acupuncture will help reduce the pain and swelling which occurs from the increased activity. This allows you to participate more fully in your rehabilitation with less discomfort.
Acupuncture can also support you while you ease back into your sport after rehabilitation by keeping the nerves and muscles communicating and reducing short term inflammation. back to top
Acupuncture is usually not sufficient treatment for a broken bone. In most cases, the bone needs to be set by a qualified orthopedic surgeon. A cast, splint, or sometimes surgery is often needed. There is a delicate balance between resting a broken bone long enough for the bone to heal and resting it so long that the surrounding soft tissue loses too much muscle tone which leads to longer healing and rehabilitation.
Once you have seen the orthopedic specialist and have your cast, come to the acupuncturist! Acupuncture can improve the blood flow, reduce the pain during the healing process, help to maintain muscle tone without exercising, and generally improve the quality of your recovery. back to top
While acupuncture is not a substitute for surgery, it is a phenomenal adjunct treatment while you recover from surgery. Acupuncture can decrease the pain associated with surgical recovery, reduce risk of infection by improving blood flow to the injured area, decrease inflammation, and help to minimize other complications.
Once you have healed sufficiently, acupuncture around surgical scars can help to minimize formation of excess scar tissue, mobilize tight scar tissue, and help maintain local tissue flexibility. back to top
If you suffer from an injury while you’re out doing what you love to do, who ya gonna call? An acupuncturist!