Acupuncture and Running Injuries

 3rd June 2015


Last week, a keen fell runner visited the Clinic for a Sports Massage and was asking how acupuncture could help her stay on top or running, and deal with some of the common injuries she has experienced. I thought this would be a good thing to blog about, considering the number of runners in, what I’m sure must be one of the UK’s fittest cities.
Acupuncture and running are a well-suited pair. From knee and hip pain, to plantar fasciitis and fatigue, many conditions suffered by runners can be helped by acupuncture.
We shared an article on our facebook Site by Ginna Ellis who gave an excellent summary of how acupuncture can help deal with the 5 most common running injuries:

1. Lazy glutes!
The issue
Runners notoriously have inactive lateral glutes, which are the muscles that provide the stability to the pelvis as you move forward.
When the lateral glutes don’t engage, the femur rotates inward and the hip collapses. This excessive motion in the pelvis increases instability in the knees, ankles, and feet.
If the levers do become instable they can’t tolerate high loads in either intensity or volume, and so have a tendency to become injured. Runners are especially prone to this imbalance because training often focuses on the muscles that drive them forward—for example, the quads and calves—and not the smaller muscles that stabilize the pelvis.

How acupuncture helps

A single acupuncture treatment can activate your glute muscles, restoring the connection between your brain and your butt. This allows you to maintain the hip stability required for an injury-resilient running form.


2. Fascial Tension
The issue
The repetitive stress of running is transferred along lines of fascia, a type of connective tissue that links together every cell in the body. Runners often hold excess tension in the back fascial line (Achilles, calves, hamstrings, and paraspinals) and lateral fascial line (peroneals, iliotibial band, and tensor fascia latae).
Injuries occur along the weakest points of these lines, but the problem actually originates above or below the site of pain. For example, your Achilles is sore because of a hypertonic calf and hamstring.

How acupuncture helps

Whether you call them meridians, fascial trains, or kinetic chains, acupuncture has an effect on entire lines of pull in the body. By releasing adhesions and trigger points along these fascial chains, acupuncture corrects the imbalances causing your injury.
You will feel the change immediately. A single needle in your hip will produce a noticeable release all the way down your leg and into your foot.


3. Inflammation
The issue
many overuse injuries involve localized pockets of inflammation that cause pain and impair function.
Acute inflammation is a good thing—the swelling and increased blood flow are necessary for healing.
However, improper biomechanics, overtraining, poor diet, and stress impair the body’s ability to fully recover. Inflammation persists longer than it should, often becoming “stuck” around the sheath of the Achilles tendon, in the joint spaces of the knee and ankle, or behind the insertion of the iliotibial band.

How acupuncture helps

Acupuncture is effective for these types of injuries because the hair-thin needles can reach pockets of inflammation with a precision that no other modality matches. Acupuncture resolves any lingering inflammation, enabling your body to complete the healing process and restore full strength, mobility, and function to the injured tissue.
Not only can acupuncture resolve acute inflammation, but it also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the entire body. This causes a reduction in systemic inflammation and allows you to develop a healthier inflammatory response.


4. Tendon dysfunction
The issue
Runners often injure tendons because they increase their training loads too quickly. Connective tissues like tendons have a relatively poor blood supply and thus adapt at a much slower rate than muscles do.
Tendons are comprised of collagen fibres aligned in a specific direction in order to handle a specific stress. When we overload our tendons by running too many miles with poor biomechanics, the fibres become jumbled and stuck together, and scar tissue forms.

How acupuncture helps

Acupuncture is especially powerful in treating tendon injuries because needles bring circulation to areas with an otherwise limited blood supply.
Acupuncture also releases the excessive tension in muscles and fascia that are overloading the tendon in the first place. There is actually an acupuncture point specifically for promoting the health of tendons throughout your entire body. (But see below!)


5. Overtraining syndrome
The issue
if you are stressing the body faster than it can recover, you may develop symptoms of overtraining—fatigue, a depleted immune system, lack of concentration, poor sleep, and an inability to recover from workouts.
Extreme cases of this may lead to overtraining syndrome, which is a serious condition characterized by chronically elevated heart rate, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and depression. Your nervous system is essentially stuck in sympathetic overdrive (fight or flight), making you unable to relax, sleep, or properly recover.
How acupuncture helps

If you train hard, you need to rest harder. Acupuncture is one of the most effective ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous system—the part that allows you to rest, digest, and heal—helping you to relax fully and sleep deeply.
If you are a competitive athlete flirting with the line of overtraining, regular acupuncture is essential to ensure that your recovery is just as high quality as your workouts.


Traditional Acupuncture

The above description of the use of acupuncture for injuries, is perfectly fine; but it is limited.

The problem is that often nowadays people are being treated in a way which is very different to the the acupuncture which was deveoped over 1000s of years int the East.

The main point to realise is the importance of the individual. As Unschuld states; “IIlnesses (injuries*) may be identical but the people suffering from them are different.” In this situation, following the above method it would mean that two runners may have what appears to be an identical or pretty similar injury and get treated with ‘acupuncture’ in the same way.

A traditional acupuncturist will certainly use those points which are sell-known to be effective in treating certain injuries- activating the channel as we say, but they will also take a close look at state of each patient’s Qi (Vital energy).
This is primarily done with a detailed study of the patient’s pulses; not simply the rate but the strength, rhythm, depth etc etc.

By doing this, the traditional acupuncturist can ascertain the type of acupuncture treatment needed for each individual, i.e. how many needles to use;how long to retain them; what needle technique should be employed (tonification or reduction). If the underlying condition of each patient is not addressed, long term results will suffer i.e. the patient improves but then gets injured again. Thus, when above we saw that there is a particular acupuncture point which influences tendons, this is correct but it will be more effective for some patients than others, and may be counter productive in others. The quality of treatment suffers if it is too prescriptive.

I guess what i’m trying to say is that you’e very precious and you should make sure that, whatever therapy you try, the practitioner has a deep understanding of that particular system of medicine and of you as an individual.