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January 14, 2014

Acupuncture in the treatment of sports injuries: What happens when you overdo it?

Written by: Matthew Wagner, L.Ac., M.S.O.M.

When you give it your all, sometimes you can push yourself a little too far.  Whether you’re a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior, or simply trying to get in shape, accidents can, and do happen.  Unfortunately, it seems they can most easily happen, when it feels like you’re approaching your personal best – when it seems like you can run forever, when you feel stronger day after day at the gym, or when you see the pounds start to come off before your eyes.  It’s at times like these that the thrill of the sport and the elation of personal accomplishment can easily drown out your body’s signals telling you to rest.  This is the perfect condition for injury.  When the inevitable damage occurs, acupuncture can mean the difference between weeks versus months of recovery time.

So, how exactly can Acupuncture help?

For starters, acupuncture can help with releasing contracted muscles, especially due to overuse.  This allows for better microcirculation and blood perfusion to the area, which improves healing time, as well as relieves chronic aches and pains.  Direct stimulation of the affected site also releases pain-relieving endorphins.  This is ideal for the chronic aches and pains of exercise, and the less serious symptoms of overuse.

However, acupuncture can also improve immunity and endurance, by increasing production of white blood cells in the body, regulating blood pressure and body temperature, and improving hemodynamic parameters to delay muscle fatigue. (1)  It has been proposed that this is due to regulation of the sympathetic nervous system, and the pituitary gland, among others. (2)

Lastly, acupuncture can help relieve the hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances that severe overtraining can cause, which result in such symptoms as insomnia, depression, mental and physical fatigue, amenorrhea, digestive disorders, chronic fatigue, and certain presentations of fibromyalgia.  Some studies suggest that acupuncture’s positive effect in this regard reflects its ability to enhance the activity; of endogenous opioid peptides; neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine; and inhibitory amino acids, while at the same time reducing the activity of excitatory hormones and amino acids. (3) In this way, acupuncture can have a strikingly positive affect on performance and recovery, even in extreme cases of overtraining and burnout.

So, if you find that you’ve overdone it, and you’re suffering from injuries, fatigue, and a lack of motivation, it’s time to implement a solid recovery plan.  When you do, remember that acupuncture will get you feeling better faster, and get you back to doing what you love.