The ancient practice of acupuncture is changing the game for professional athletes right here in the Twin Cities.
For more than 5,000 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been a full-fledged healthcare system, with acupuncture being its key therapeutic practice. In the past two decades, researchers have been looking closely at acupuncture, especially in relation to sports. This has helped us better understand how it can be useful for both professional and everyday athletes. They call this approach “Sports Medicine Acupuncture,” and it’s like a superpower for athletes of all ages.
We recently interviewed someone who knows more than most on this topic. Hilary Patzer, the Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor and the official Sports Acupuncturist for our beloved Minnesota Vikings. Her practice, JADA studios, has been promoting faster recovery and protecting against future injury using this powerful ancient practice.
During the interview, Hilary shares about the history of the practice and how it has evolved. She’s witnessed firsthand how acupuncture impacts our Minnesota Teams. Chinese medicine has the power to support injury healing, speed up recovery between games and practices, and even lengthen careers for professional athletes through injury prevention and mobility enhancement.
In this article we’ll cover:
- Why Use Traditional Chinese Medicine on Athletes?
- What is Sports Medicine Acupuncture?
- How does Sports Acupuncture work?
- Is Sports Acupuncture Effective?
- What Sports Acupuncture Research Shows
- Practical Application and Tips for Young Athletes, Enthusiast, and Professionals
- 5 Podcast Episodes on Acupuncture
- Our Local Featured Practitioner of Sports Medicine Acupuncture
Why use Traditional Chinese Medicine on Athletes?
TCM goes beyond muscles and joints
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) not only seeks to support the body, but balances the body’s energy. Emphasis on balancing the body’s energy is often missing from an allopathic approach to sports medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine works together with the body’s entire system to support the athlete, musculoskeletal and energy systems. Undoubtably, the patient-centered whole-person approach makes a difference as the treatments are often customized to each athlete, each session.
TCM is also relatively low cost and low risk, making it a sustainable and accessible. There are rarely contraindications or risk factors that would make acupuncture a danger to an athlete, or worsen the injury. Instead of putting any additional pressure on the injury, acupuncture works with the body’s natural healing mechanisms to support natural healing in the impacted area.
TCM can prevent and enhance
There is now research that supports the efficacy of acupuncture in not only healing an injury, but preventing injury in the first place. To boot, acupuncture is also known to naturally enhance athletic performance safely and effectively.
What is Sports Medicine Acupuncture?
What do you get when you merge Sports Medicine and Acupuncture? Let’s start by understanding Sports Medicine.
The fundamental principles of sports medicine revolve around optimizing athletic performance, preventing injuries, and promoting overall well-being for athletes and active individuals. Sports medicine uses evidence-based practices to evaluate and determine a person’s readiness for performance, to optimize training regimens to avoid the risk of progressive overload and avoids overtraining, as well as optimizes recovery strategies.
Now, layer in the concepts of acupuncture. . .
Acupuncture has the ability to enhance these practices by addressing energy balance and flow in the body. Acupuncture is based on the concept of balancing the body’s energy, known as Qi (pronounced “chee”). By inserting fine needles into specific acupuncture points, practitioners aim to restore harmonious energy flow throughout the body. This balance can help optimize physical performance and prevent injuries.
The merging of these approaches is something called Sports Medicine Acupuncture (SMAC), a specific certification for advanced understanding of orthopedics and applied acupuncture for athletes of all ages. The very best of both worlds.
How does Sports Acupuncture work?
But how exactly does Sports Acupuncture work?
In TCM theory, acupuncture clears blockages in energy channels that effectively relieves pain and promotes healing. It’s only been recently that these traditional approaches have been combined with the best of sports medicine to create radically effective protocols for treating and preventing injuries.
Here’s how acupuncture enhances sports medicine:
- Energy Balance and Flow: Acupuncture is based on the concept of balancing the body’s energy, known as Qi (pronounced “chee”). By inserting fine needles into specific acupuncture points, practitioners aim to restore harmonious energy flow throughout the body. This balance can help optimize physical performance and prevent injuries.
- Pain Management: Acupuncture is known to release endorphins and other neurochemicals, which can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. For athletes dealing with acute or chronic pain, acupuncture can provide a natural and non-invasive pain management option.
- Muscle Relaxation and Function: Acupuncture can target specific muscles and fascia, promoting relaxation and enhancing muscle function. Relaxed muscles are less prone to strain and injury, and improved muscle function can lead to better overall performance.
- Injury Prevention: By identifying and addressing imbalances in the body’s energy flow, acupuncture can help prevent injuries before they occur. This proactive approach aligns with the preventive aspect of sports medicine.
- Recovery and Healing: Acupuncture’s stimulation of energy flow can enhance blood circulation and promote faster recovery. This can be particularly beneficial for athletes who need to recover quickly between training sessions or competitions.
- Stress Reduction and Mental Clarity: Acupuncture sessions are often accompanied by a sense of relaxation and reduced stress. This can contribute to improved mental clarity, focus, and emotional well-being, which are crucial for athletic performance.
When sports medicine and acupuncture combine, the approach addresses both physical and energetic aspects of performance.
Is Sports Acupuncture Effective?
Yes! Thanks to a growing interested in funding research on acupuncture, we now have studies that explore the impact on athletic performance specifically.
One study compared elite athletes while cycling, one group received acupuncture treatments and other did not. After 30 and 60 minute intervals the treatment group measured lower heart rate and lower lactic acid levels in their body than the control group.
Another study took a look at not only enhancing recovery, but enhancing performance. A study involving a baseball pitcher showed that the velocity of fastballs started to decline after approximately 50 pitches. However, when acupuncture was introduced as an intervention, the speed either remained consistent or experienced only minimal decrease following treatments.
What Sports Acupuncture Research Shows
Here are a few studies and resources related to Sports Medicine Acupuncture that you might find interesting and informative:
- “Acupuncture and Dry Needling for Sports Performance and Recovery“
- This study explores the efficacy of acupuncture in treating sports injuries. It discusses how acupuncture can reduce pain, inflammation, and promote healing.
- Tang, Chi-Tsai MD, FAAMA; Song, Bo MD. Acupuncture and Dry Needling for Sports Performance and Recovery. Current Sports Medicine Reports 21(6):p 213-218, June 2022. | DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000968
- “Use of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sports-Related Injuries in Athletes: A Systematic Review”
- This review article provides an overview of the use of acupuncture in sports medicine, including its potential benefits for injury management, pain relief, and enhancing athletic performance.
- Lee J-W, Lee J-H, Kim S-Y. Use of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sports-Related Injuries in Athletes: A Systematic Review of Case Reports. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17(21):8226. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17218226
- “The Effects of Acupuncture on Human Performance in Sports: A Systematic Review“
- This systematic review evaluates the impact of acupuncture on sports performance. It discusses whether acupuncture interventions have potential benefits for enhancing physical performance.
- Bailey, Steve. (2012). The Effects of Acupuncture on Human Performance in Sports: A Systematic Review. Journal of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists. January 2012.
- “Effect of Acupuncture on Physiological Response to Exercise: A Systemic Review”
- This review provides insight on the impacts of acupuncture on the mechanisms that influence athletic performance and recovery.
- Bailey SD, Liddington B (2021) Effect of Acupuncture on Physiological Response to Exercise: A Systematic Review. Int J Sports Exerc Med 7:210. doi.org/10.23937/2469-5718/1510210
Practical Application and Tips for Young Athletes, Enthusiast, and Professionals
If you are a young athlete, enthusiast, or professional, keep these things in mind when considering adding sports acupuncture into your self-care regime:
Begin with the end in mind.
In other words, know what outcome you’d like to experience. Would you like to experience less muscle soreness? Are you looking for a fast recovery time? Perhaps you are looking to enhance a muscle group’s performance? Or even protect a particular area from future injury. Clearly communicating these desires with your provider is key to a positive experience.
Find the Right Provider
Find an acupuncturist certified in sports medicine acupuncture. While needling protocols may be performed by a doctor of TCM, a sports medicine acupuncturist will have more expertise in sports performance, injury recovery, and injury prevention than an acupuncturist without that additional certification. We can help, when searching the directory, check the certifications section for “(C.SMA) “.
Integrate the Support within You’re Existing Self-Care Routine
Acupuncture isn’t a stand-alone therapy. While it has the potential to be an amazing whole-body support, it’s best when accompanied with healthful nutrition, proper hydration, and supportive self-care routines in sleep, stress management, and mindful movement.
5 More Podcast Episodes on Acupuncture
Discover More of What Acupuncture Can Do
Acupuncture is an ancient, time-tested, whole-body support with limitless potential. Here is a collection of Well Connected Twin Cities interviews with local acupuncture experts on the various ways they are changing lives right here in the Twin Cities. From fertility to sports performance and in-between.
Conversation with Dr. Hilary Patzer, the Official Sports Acupuncturist for the Minnesota Vikings, about the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine within sports and coaching others to drive for success….
Interview with Stacey Degen about blending Eastern philosophies and Western knowledge to provide drug-free wellness care for all her clients and how her passion for health supports women during their menopausal transition….
Interview with Jessica Gustafson of Reverie Acupuncture to discuss how Eastern Medicine can support the journey from preconception to postpartum. …
Julie McCormick, owner of Selby Acupuncture, and learn about how Chinese Medicine works as an integrative model of care….