Suffering From Sore Muscles? Give This Treatment A Try
The thought of a single needle piercing the skin makes most people cringe. Who would want dozens more?
Our aversion to those prickles is one of the main reasons why so many look past acupuncture as a form of treatment, but there are great benefits for the body — especially as a method of workout recovery. From injury recovery, to relaxation, to sleep quality, this is a therapy that can improve your performance in the gym. And don’t worry about that discomfort. Unlike the injections the nurse gives you, acupuncture is virtually painless.
To learn more about this ancient Chinese medicine and how it can help those hitting the gym, we took a trip to Taiwan — one of the homes of acupuncture. In Taiwan, it’s considered equal to Western medicine, meaning it’s regulated and doctors need a license to perform it. We stepped into the Chinese Medical University Hospital to get a guide as to how specifically it can help us with fitness recovery:
When you’re working out, your muscles, ligaments and everything in between are in overdrive. As you push your body, you’re stretching and tearing muscles, and afterwards, your system works to rebuild. Acupuncture can speed that process up.
“Acupuncture helps improve the circulation in your body, which means nutrients and all of the necessary things the body needs to recover get delivered sooner,” says James Liao, attending physician at the Department of Acupuncture in the China Medical University Hospital. “Acupuncture will help regulate the blood flow in the body — especially the trouble spots — and that means oxygen and those vital nutrients become more readily available.”
Speeds Up Recovery
Speaking of recovery, the more you do acupuncture, the faster your body is going to recover on a regular basis. A study conducted on basketball players showed that those who had acupuncture had far lower levels of blood lactic acid compared to those who didn’t.
Muscle fatigue is a big challenge for those who train daily and studies have shown that acupuncture is a great way to help those muscles recover and get ready for the next workout.
Our mobility is limited by different types of tension. Sometimes it’s stress, sometimes our body can’t get to a specific position yet and sometimes the muscle is tight from being worked. Whatever the case, that limit in mobility can keep you from achieving proper form or lifting a greater weight. With acupuncture, that can be improved.
“You have to look at it case by case, but in any scenario, acupuncture will help,” says Liao. “For example, someone might have ankle mobility issues and can’t fully squat, but that problem could be a structural problem stemming from somewhere else like the knee or probably the hip. We want to assess where the imbalance is coming from first and target that area with acupuncture and other exercises.”
Helps Treat Scar Tissue
Scar tissue is a challenge for many athletes that are recovering from serious injuries. Surgeries can repair most problems these days but they often leave behind scar tissue, which present nagging aches and tightness.
“According to my own personal clinical experience as well as our research in Taiwan — numerous studies — acupuncture can decrease the size of the scar, and the pain and tension of scar tissue,” says Liao. “Keep in mind that Western techniques may be able to remove scar tissue faster via cosmetic methods but our method would be less invasive.”
Alleviates Chronic Pain
If you’re a dedicated gym-goer, it’s likely you live with some kind of chronic pain that you’re fighting through. A bum knee, a sore back, or possibly wonky shoulders. If you’re not interested in pill-popping and rest alone hasn’t helped the problem resolve itself, acupuncture could be a solution. In one of the biggest studies done to date on acupuncture, it’s proven to help with all sorts of chronic pain. If you have a nagging neck or back strain, consider acupuncture as a way to alleviate that.
This is probably the benefit most Westerners recognize: relaxation. The needles are delicately positioned in certain spots and pain, swelling and tension is relieved, leaving you feeling like a relaxed puppet.
In this case, you can think of it like a massage. Massage is a similar form of therapy as it targets areas in the body that need attention. The masseuse digs deep to squeeze out the stiffness in your muscles. However, the main difference with acupuncture is that the needles can go where the fingers can’t. They stimulate different points in the muscles to release them. The muscles will be tight at first but as the acupuncturist works, the needles will hit pressure points to unlock the muscle and restore that natural range of motion.
It’s not such a leap to conclude that if acupuncture helps alleviate pain and increases relaxation, that it would have a strong impact on the mind as well. That’s exactly what the research shows at the China Medical University Hospital in Taiwan.
“We have a database with lots of randomized control trials that show how acupuncture helps patients from a mental perspective,” says Liao. “Those blind studies show us that acupuncture helps treat depression but in terms of what relates to fitness, we’ve noted improvements in sleep quality and energy levels in patients.”