Learn More about the benefits of acupuncture by reading
Dr. Kent's "Acupuncture for Athletes" article for Level Renner

I know what you’re thinking…I know because I was thinking the same thing four years ago as I strolled into the Chinese Medicine clinic attached to our chiropractic clinic.  I was sidelined, again, with yet another nagging overuse injury and just couldn’t kick it this time. I walked into the clinic with nothing but skepticism – what could a couple of tiny needles possibly do for my running? My skepticism vanished when I returned to full training after only three treatments.  I enrolled in the program immediately after.  After three years of studying and treating patients, I realized that the benefits of acupuncture lie not within the needles themselves but with how a Chinese Medicine practitioner views the body and specifically, injury.

One of the fundamental concepts behind Chinese Medicine is “qi,” often written in Western cultures as “chi” and both pronounced “chee.” Many of you have likely heard of qi, often referenced like an element on the ethereal period table, but after years of studying Chinese medicine I’ve seen that practitioners and patients alike experience qi as a very tangible feeling through acupuncture needles. I encourage patients to think of qi simply as the physical movements within their body that maintain normal function.  Think of blood flow throughout the body – without this movement, life itself would cease, and qi is what makes all movements possible.

The points on the body are arranged into 12 specific patterns called channels.  Throughout the day qi flows continuously and baring any illness or injury, it flows freely. 2 In the presence of injury or pathology, however, the free flow of qi can be disrupted. Each point represents an entry point into a channel, which allows an acupuncturist to help the free flow of qi. And this is how acupuncture can really change your game:

1.     Decreased pain - We had a funny saying in school “If the patient has pain, put a needle where it hurts!”  While nothing in life is that simple, when it comes to acupuncture, it sometimes is!  It’s widely accepted that acupuncture is a safe and effective form of treatment for many painful conditions, especially those that are musculoskeletal in nature, which most running injuries happen to be.  Acupuncture has become so widely used to treat musculoskeletal pain that the American College of Physicians’ most current treatment guidelines for back pain recommend that Physicians prescribe acupuncture, among other conservative modalities, to reduce and control pain. 3

2.     Improved sleep - Sleep is like a magic reset button when it comes to training and adaptation, but it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. As an acupuncturist, I can learn a lot about what’s going on in your body by the way you sleep. Any disruption in sleeping habits, such as your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep, can usually be traced back to a disruption in the free flow of qi.  Imagine a dam being placed in a river; the bank of the river upstream will be eroded and pushed back, and the river downstream will run dry and lack essential nutrients that sustain the diversity of the river.  This concept illustrates how a disruption in the flow of qi can drastically affect the body due to too little or too much qi.  Restoring normal flow of qi returns the body to normal sleep patterns and even improves the quality of that sleep.  Improved sleep helps restore normal hormonal and neurological activity of the body, both critical factors when you’re recovering.

3.     Increased healing from damaged tissues - When it comes to healing damaged tissues, blood flow is king because your blood transports all the necessities for proper healing including oxygen, glucose, vitamins, minerals, but also white blood cells to clean up damaged and inflamed tissues.  In Chinese medicine blood and Qi are synonymous. Classically in Chinese Medicine, it is said that “qi and blood are of the same source” and that “qi is the commander of the blood” meaning that without qi, your blood flow is not optimized which can hamper how quickly you recover from training.

4.     Improved function of skeletal muscle - The muscles work in agonistic and antagonistic groups.  Muscles like the gluteus maximus and quadriceps/psoas can work against each other if one of those muscles is over activated (when you “feel tight”). Introducing acupuncture needles into the quadriceps and gluteus maximus can help “reset” the firing patterns and tone of those muscle groups. You’re left with a more natural stride free from muscle limitations. Proper firing patterns also prevent the body from adopting compensation patterns that can lead to nagging long-term injuries down the road.

There you have it, a crash course in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture!  It is difficult to appreciate the complexities and nuances that make Chinese medicine unique without first-hand experience but it is my hope that this will be an open door for the future of your healthy and your running!