Acupuncture and Sports Performance


Most of the time we talk about using Eastern Medicine as a way to help recover from illnesses, disorders, or lack of optimal function.  Other times we discuss how various practices can help to prevent health deficiencies before they occur.  But Eastern medicine can do more than heal and prevent illnesses.  Through a combination of acupuncture, massage, and techniques like cupping, we can improve athletic performance and shorten recovery time after a workout or injury.

Whether you’re a professional athlete or strive to compete with your own personal best, understanding these tools can make an impact your endurance, strength and recovery.   

Acupuncture for performance and recovery

In part due to its ability to improve blood flow, acupuncture is believed to improve an athlete’s ability to perform when administered before a workout, according to a University of California study. Another study indicated that athletes who use acupuncture treatments maintain lower heart rates during exercise and can reach a higher maximum capacity than their counterparts who don’t receive similar treatment.   A third study indicates that acupuncture increases the production of endorphins, which help to reduce pain, giving athletes higher endurance rates.

But not only can acupuncture improve performance, it can also aid in recovery after a strong workout or an injury.  When acupuncture points are stimulated, there’s an immediate increase in the body’s immune response, causing blood flow to the area to strengthen. This improved blood flow helps to reduce swelling, which in turn reduces pain and allows the body to recover more quickly.

Cupping and massage

For athletes looking to improve and maintain performance, it’s important to take care of muscle tissue.  Releasing tension, diminishing knots and improving circulation will relieve pain, reduce swelling and help to eliminate post-workout discomfort. Massage and cupping are two excellent ways to achieve these ends.

Massage works by applying external pressure to muscles, working from the outside in.  Another Eastern medicine method that accomplishes the same results, but works from the inside out, is called cupping.  It’s an ancient practice that dates back over 3,000 years. Multiple cups, usually made of glass or plastic, are placed upside down upon the body to create strong suction along the body’s surface. The suction was traditionally created by lighting a small fire into a glass cup, then placing it over the skin. The lack of oxygen in the cup creates a tight vacuum seal that draws the skin and uppermost layer of muscle up into it.  While fire cupping is still used, a more common practice is to use a modern device in which air is drawn out of the cup with a pump, creating the same result on the muscle and skin. 

Through suction, the effect of the skin being pulled upward into the cup helps pull the stagnant blood flow and dead cells that are trapped in the muscle layer closer to the surface of the skin. The effects are similar to massage and are almost immediate – deep relaxation, realignment of muscle fibers, diminished knots, and pain relief.

Whether you’re performing your regular workout routine or training for a major event like a marathon, incorporating Eastern medicine treatments into your plans can improve your endurance, strength and recovery time.