Recent research in the field of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine: Better. Faster. Stronger.

Acupuncture is ancient medicine designed with athletes in mind, with the benefits and mechanisms of action coming to light in the results of recent studies. Whether for performance enhancement, pain relief, increased strength or recovering from injuries faster, it holds potential benefit for many. It has very limited side effects, little to no discomfort, no negative substances in blood tests, and uses the body’s own potential to heal itself.

A 2012 study showed that acupuncture and electroacupuncture can directly improve muscle strength in comparison to sham acupuncture. (Zhou et al. 2012) Further investigative studies have shown that acupuncture may increase maximum performance capacity, as well as performance at anaerobic threshold due to improvement in metabolic mechanisms. (Erlich et al. 1992) It can decrease heart rate and improve oxygen uptake and velocity in anaerobic threshold by affecting the autonomic nervous system. (Gentil et al. 2005) This implies that the muscles can continue to function at a higher level as the oxygenation uptake rate is greater even with a lower heart rate with the effects of acupuncture.

Muscle recovery is key to increasing strength and a consistent performance, and circulation of the proper nutrients to the muscles and removal of waste products are a huge part of that. Nutrition and hydration play a very important role in recovery as well, but improving the delivery system can yield a significant advantage. A systemic review investigating microcirculatory effects after acupuncture found that the acupuncture group had significantly more blood flow to the muscles, the degree of which was dependent on technique of the practitioner. (Kim et al. 2016) With improved blood flow, pain relief can be achieved as well as improved recovery times, and increased strength.

Pain after workouts and competition is common for those who push themselves hard, and can limit ability to put in proper training and elongate recovery time overall if it continues. Acupuncture has been found to reduce pain and inflammation on a cellular level by having a beneficial effect on producing a phenotypic switch in macrophages and increasing IL-10 concentrations, key to reducing inflammation on a cellular level. (da Silva et al, 2015) This suggests that its effects are more significant than just improved blood flow.

Osteoarthritis, neck and back pain, and shoulder pain are common issues in athletes. Especially as we age, it can be harder to continue to perform at the level we desire, with chronic pain being a major cause of difficulty.  A major metastudy combined the results of 29 random control trials, and found that acupuncture yielded clinically relevant and statistically proven results in all the above areas. It was  especially effective for pain relief in chronic cases, a problem many athletes face. (Vickers et al. 2012)

With decreased pain and improved recovery times, increased strength and more rapid injury healing, we can continue to train and compete far longer than drugs or other therapies alone would allow.    

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