Acupuncture as an Aid in Recovery
by Kirk Layfield, PhD EMT-P
A month or so ago I talked about a broken clavicle I sustained in October of 2013 practicing at a local track (read about it here). While things were progressing nicely for my left shoulder (The broken Clavicle), things turned south on my right shoulder. An injured rotator cuff from the past reared its ugly head and sent me back under the knife. Everything at this time is once again on the right path as I am completely recovered from the left shoulder injury and roughly 12 weeks out on a 16 to 24 week recovery on the right. During my down time I implemented some acupuncture treatments to help speed the healing and recovery process and wanted to share some information that may be beneficial you. Acupuncture is not just used as a post surgical procedure but is also a great tool for all competitive athletes to improve their training and performance. Let’s get educated on acupuncture. Credit goes to The University of Maryland Medical Center for providing the source of our education.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment based on Chinese medicine -- a system of healing that dates back thousands of years. At the core of Chinese medicine is the notion that a type of life force, or energy, known as qi (pronounced "chee") flows through energy pathways (meridians) in the body. Each meridian corresponds to one organ, or group of organs, that governs particular bodily functions. Achieving the proper flow of qi is thought to create health and wellness. Qi maintains the dynamic balance of yin and yang, which are complementary opposites. According to Chinese medicine, everything in nature has both yin and yang. An imbalance of qi (too much, too little, or blocked flow) causes disease. To restore balance to the qi, an acupuncturist inserts needles at points along the meridians. These acupuncture points are places where the energy pathway is close to the surface of the skin.
How does acupuncture work?
The effects of acupuncture are complex. How it works is not entirely clear. Research suggests that the needling process, and other techniques used in acupuncture, may produce a variety of effects in the body and the brain. One theory is that stimulated nerve fibers transmit signals to the spinal cord and brain, activating the body’s central nervous system. The spinal cord and brain then release hormones responsible for making us feel less pain while improving overall health. In fact, a study using images of the brain confirmed that acupuncture increases our pain threshold, which may explain why it produces long-term pain relief. Acupuncture may also increase blood circulation and body temperature, affect white blood cell activity (responsible for our immune function), reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and regulate blood sugar levels.
What is acupuncture good for?
Acupuncture is particularly effective for pain relief and for nausea and vomiting after surgery or chemotherapy. In addition, both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan for many illnesses. A partial list includes: addiction (such as alcoholism), asthma, bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, facial tics, fibromyalgia, headaches, irregular menstrual cycles, polycystic ovarian syndrome, low back pain, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis, sinusitis, spastic colon (often called irritable bowel syndrome), stroke rehabilitation, tendinitis, tennis elbow, and urinary problems such as incontinence. You can safely combine acupuncture with prescription drugs and other conventional treatments, but it is important for your primary care physician to be aware of and monitor how your acupuncture treatment may be affecting your conventional therapies.
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture also lists a wide range of conditions for which acupuncture is appropriate. In addition to those listed above, they recommend acupuncture for sports injuries, sprains, strains, whiplash, neck pain, sciatica, nerve pain due to compression, overuse syndromes similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, pain resulting from spinal cord injuries, allergies, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sore throat (called pharyngitis), high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux (felt as heartburn or indigestion), ulcers, chronic and recurrent bladder and kidney infections, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), infertility, endometriosis, anorexia, memory problems, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, sensory disturbances, drug detoxification, depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.
What to Look for in an Acupuncturist
When you are looking for a qualified acupuncturist, make sure that he is certified by the NCCAOM. This organization ensures that the practitioner has completed the required coursework and internship, and that he has passed the exam. Without this certification, you cannot be sure of the practitioner’s level of training.
Before you decide to make a stop at your local acupuncture practitioner, give your insurance company a call. Some insurance policies don’t cover alternative treatments like acupuncture. Other times, they’ll cover only certain types. Check with your insurance and acupuncturist to find out how much of your treatment will be covered.
How many treatments do I need?
The number of acupuncture treatments you need depends on the complexity of your illness, whether it's a chronic or recent condition, and your general health. For example, you may need only one treatment for a recent wrist sprain, while a long-term illness may require treatments for several months to achieve good results.
I used a total of 6 treatments at the time of this article for my shoulder injuries/surgeries and have had a great deal of success in generally increasing my range of motion much quicker and being about 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule in the healing process. All riders/athletes should have an arsenal of options in their training, rehabilitation and sports medicine tool box, consider adding acupuncture to yours.
That’s it for this contribution to Racer X Virtual Trainer. Stayed tuned for a special feature on Privateer Fitness coming soon. Feel free to email me with your questions or comments and please visit our website for all your fitness and nutrition needs.
Related Article: Acupuncturist Treats 40 N.F.L. Players in 4 Cities (New York times)
That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness.