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Touchdown Healing: Merging Sports Medicine and Acupuncture for Peak Performance

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.

You can listed to a full interview with Hilary here.

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?

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.

Low risk

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

  1. “Acupuncture and Dry Needling for Sports Performance and Recovery
  2. “Use of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sports-Related Injuries in Athletes: A Systematic Review”
  3. “The Effects of Acupuncture on Human Performance in Sports: A Systematic Review
  4. “Effect of Acupuncture on Physiological Response to Exercise: A Systemic Review”

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.

Episode 116: Success and Holistic Medicine with MN Viking Sports Acupuncturist Dr. Hilary Patzer

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….

Episode 109: Acupuncture & Holistic Empowerment for Women in Menopause with Stacey Degen

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….

Episode 95: Preconception to Postpartum with Eastern Medicine ft. Jessica Gustafson

Interview with Jessica Gustafson of Reverie Acupuncture to discuss how Eastern Medicine can support the journey from preconception to postpartum. …

Episode 73: Chinese Medicine + Acupuncture with Julie McCormick

Julie McCormick, owner of Selby Acupuncture, and learn about how Chinese Medicine works as an integrative model of care….

Episode 12: Acupuncture for Degenerative Eye Conditions with Cassandra Rose

Cassandra, Montes Rose Acupuncture, specializes in macular regeneration, which uses Acunova, acupuncture, microcurrent therapy, herbs, supplements and lifestyle to address degenerative eye diseases…

Hilary Patzer of JADA Studios, (C.SMA) Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Official Sports Acupuncturist for the Minnesota Vikings.

Send them a message here.

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