If you have been struggling with a recent injury preventing you from doing your favourite activity and sport, I know your frustration. You might have suffered with a new injury, a recurring problem or a chronic sports injury that just does not seem to be going away. Every time you think the light is green, you go out and run, or head straight back to the gym, the court or the water and bam! there it goes again. You may have been seeing an array of therapists from physiotherapists, masseurs, osteopaths or chiropractors. Acupuncture has, until this point, perhaps not been on your radar. Aside from the importance of rehabilitation and cross-training for your sport, I need to explain a little bit about acupuncture and its relation to sports injuries, pain and healing.
First of all, acupuncture has been around for an awfully long time time, about 3000 years. Though relatively new in this country the practice has certainly withstood the test of time in the East. In China, during the Cultural Revolution last century they even tried to obliterate Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine completely in favour of Western orthodox practices (as they did all cultural ties to China’s imperial, feudal or religious past). What resulted was a national health crisis where they couldn’t cope and train up doctors rapidly enough. This instigated the reintroduction, standardisation and university training under the banner ‘TCM’, Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the Far East and increasingly in Europe and America, Acupuncture is a first port of call for injuries, especially to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and even bones. This generally also reflects the order of how effectively acupuncture can have results and how quickly healing can occur. Basically speaking, the first thing that you want relief from is the pain. Following or combined with this is aiding your body doing its job of healing – something it does or at least should do naturally and efficiently. Acupuncture has been proven to reduce pain, the the stimulation of the local release of adenosine, a pain reducing chemical as well as reducing activity in the pain-sensing area of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex. Acupuncture is also shown to reduce signs of inflammation and logic follows that removal of stagnant fluids allows fresh nutrient-rich blood to flow to the damaged area. If there are other imbalances in your body, these may affect the efficiency of your body’s healing process, so I will not only directly treat the local injured area with acupuncture but also, if necessary, aim to rebalance the flow of Qi and Blood throughout the body to help your body do it’s job more effectively.
Acupuncturists use archaic language and paradigms, extensively though not exclusively, for both diagnosis and treatment. It is important to demystify and explain some of these. The human body is made up and sustained by The Three Treasures: shen (spirit), qi (breath, air, energy) and jing (vital fluids, sexual essences, and physical matter). We talk about yin and yang, which is nothing more than a classification of opposites, a pragmatic method of differential diagnosis. For example the body is covered in established and known acupuncture points (over 360) that manifest along what we call jing lou (meridians or channels). We have 12 main channels that interconnect the surface of the skin, muscles, tendons, blood and nervous system and connect with the zangfu (internal organs). These meridians are classified into three degrees of yin and three levels of yang, depending on where they appear on the body. That makes six each on the legs and arms, twelve in total. For example the back of the body, relative to the front is yang. The inside of a limb, inner thigh, knee or ankle is yin, and so is the under arm, inner elbow or underside of the wrist relative to the back of the arm, elbow or wrist. This creates a geographical landscape over the entire body forming linked groups of muscles, tendons and ligaments over the entire body that are much akin to the modern term ‘myofascial planes’ or ‘anatomy trains’. Is the injury deep (yin) or superficial (yang), is there heat (yang) or is it cold (yin) and so forth. Is the injury on a yin or a yang meridian? Which one? Why is this relevant? you may be asking yourself. If you have an injury to the knee, I will first seek to establish where the site of the injury is and where the pain is (these two are not always one and the same). Lets say your injury is to the outside of the knee where there ITB joins the knee joint (a common running injury). This is the region of the Shao Yang (little yang) channel of the Foot, commonly known as the Gall Bladder meridian, which extends and is part of the Shao Yang channel of the hand (the ‘Tripple Heater’ channel). Apart from needling directly on or near to the injury site, Acupuncture may be administered anywhere along this channel, depending on the nature of the injury and several other factors taken into account.
It is this interconnectedness of the entire body that acupuncture taps in to and when it comes to sports injuries and pain management explains why a needle far from the injury site can have any effect at all. Some of the sometimes surprisingly effective results of acupuncture in this department have been explained by science and some not. It also helps to part-explain why an injury, pain or tension seems to ‘move’ from the site of the original sports injury to other seemingly non-related muscle groups. Oftentimes to me these movements are quite predicatble and not surprising to me. In my opinion there is nothing mystical or magical about acupuncture, just that there is still so much that science has yet to understand about the human body and the not all the trial and trusting methods have caught up, let alone being appropriate to acupuncture.