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Your journey to better health

Acupuncture for Runners

The Boston Marathon is only 3 days away! So it seemed a fitting time to write about all the benefits that acupuncture can offer to runners.

As a lifelong distance runner, I can say first-hand that acupuncture is what has enabled me to keep running and racing as long as I have.

First and foremost, regular acupuncture can prevent injuries from occurring.

Preliminary research has also shown that acupuncture may have a positive impact on factors that impact athletic performance, such as power, blood pressure, and the body’s ability to recover post-exercise.

Acupuncture is also a well-known treatment for many common running-related injuries.
There is a saying among runners, “If you run long enough, you are going to get injured.” It is sad but true. Running is a terrific sport – but it is hard on the joints and soft tissue, especially at higher mileage and intensity. So if you do get injured, acupuncture can be a very useful front-line or complimentary treatment to aid in healing and recovery. Here are some of the most common running injuries (courtesy of Runner’s World), and how acupuncture helps:

  • “Runner’s Knee”: Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, often dubbed “Runner’s Knee”, is an irritation of the cartilage underneath the patella kneecap.) Symptoms of Runner’s Knee include localized pain and stiffness following long runs, going up or down stairs, and after sitting for long periods of time. Acupuncture may be an effective treatment for Runner’s Knee. A 2007 Randomized Controlled Trial of 75 patients with PFPS found that acupuncture twice per week for 4 weeks significantly reduced pain levels compared to no treatment.
  • Achilles Tendonitis: This common injury is an inflammation of the tendon that connects the two calf muscles to the heel. It is the second most common injury among runners. Acupuncture can greatly help to reduce inflammation and pain, and also loosen up muscle knots and adhesions in the calf muscles which are likely contributing to the tendonitis further down the leg.
  • Hamstring Issues:  The hamstrings are the muscle group that run along the back of the upper leg. In runner’s, these muscles are frequently overpowered by the quads in the front of the leg, which sets up the runner for injury. Hamstrings in runners are often too stretched or too weak, making them easily susceptible to a pull or a tear.  Acupuncture can help heal hamstring strains by guiding excess fluid out of the area, increasing blood flow through a damaged area, aiding in tissue healing, and reducing pain and tension.
  • Plantar Fasciitis:Plantar Fasciitis is actually how I got into acupuncture – I used acupuncture throughout my time as a college cross-country and track runner to manage plantar fasciitis pain. Plantar fasciitis refers to and inflammation of the dense connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, which causes heel and arch pain.  A 2012 Systematic Review of 5 RCTs and 3 non-randomized comparison studies found that there is evidence to support the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating Plantar Heel pain. Moreover, they found the level of evidence in support of acupuncture is comparable to the evidence supporting currently standard-of-care therapies such as stretching, night splints, and medication.
  • Shin Splints: Shin splints refer to microtears in the muscles along your shin bone, or Tibia. It often presents as sharp pain in the shin.  A 2002 study of 40 patients compared acupuncture, sports medicine, and acupuncture plus sports medicine. Both acupuncture groups experienced a significantly greater reduction in pain over a 3 week treatment period.
  • IT Band Syndrome: The IT Band is a band of dense connective tissue on the outside of the upper leg, and it can become irritated and inflamed from rubbing against the femur. Issues also arise when the IT Band is too tight. The IT Band runs from the hip to the knee, so can present as hip pain or soreness, lateral (outside) knee pain, or tension and pain along the outer thigh. This is a very common injury for which acupuncture can be very helpful. We often treat IT Band issues using electro-acupuncture, which helps to loosen the tissue increase mobility, and reduce pain.
  • Stress fractures: These hairline fractures in the bones of the feet and legs often occur in runners who over-train – the cumulative stress on the bones themselves causes them to fracture. This is a serious injury and requires taking time off from running. In the acute phase, acupuncture can be used to help manage pain. As treatment progresses, acupuncture, electroacupuncture, and topical herbal applications can be used to help regenerate bone and promote healing.

Acupuncture can help reverse some of the stressful effects of running, so that you can continue to reap the many benefits from this great sport.
Good luck to all the Boston Marathoners on Monday!

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