The Benefits of Acupuncture for Running: Performance, Prevention, and Recovery

The physical exertion and strain runners experience make them more susceptible to injury. Acupuncture can work as a preventative treatment to strengthen and relax muscles or aid in injury recovery.

In terms of injury recovery, the point at which most people seek physical treatment, acupuncture can promote increased blood flow to an area and stimulate healing. Tight muscles can be released, which will allow the body to work on healing itself instead of getting constantly restrained by poor patterns of movement caused by pain or restriction.

The advantages of acupuncture compared to other forms of treatment are two-fold. Whereas massage involves the manipulation of surface muscle in dealing with underlying tissues, acupuncture allows treatment of deeper muscle tissue without aggravating surface muscle, making it the most effective and direct method of treatment. Secondly, since the symptoms of pain or fatigue can occur somewhere other than where the problem lies, acupuncture is effective in treating the root cause of the problem, rather than only the area of symptomatic expression (often in the back and/or knees). A common complaint of runners is IT band pain. It often manifests itself on the outside or rear of the knee, but the actual problem is with the band as a whole. By treating the trigger point near the hip, we can correct the problem by restoring the balance of the entire band.

Supplementary techniques we often use include moxibustion, and burning herbs to heat needles and/or muscle groups, which increases blood flow to the insertion point. Gentle, rhythmic electrical stimulation of inserted needles is another common supplementary technique, one that amplifies the restoration of proper contractile mobility to muscle fibers.

More than recovery from injury, acupuncture’s greatest potential may come in injury prevention. Running and training are hard, whether it is fast acceleration sprints or long distance, and it takes a toll on the body. This is especially true of problem areas such as the back, hips and legs, which are most affected by running. Acupuncture needles can get directly to deep muscle bands to maximize the treatment effect. For example, when a deep muscle of the hip is treated directly, it will be more susceptible to stretching and can relax more. There is subsequently less stress on the joint, and the muscle has more potential to fire and contract without fear of spraining muscles or tearing ligaments.

Regular treatment can help prevent problems by improving muscle fiber mobility. For these reasons, we recommend regular treatment, two or three times a month, or at most once a week, as a key component of maintenance and injury prevention.

Whether for injury or prevention, acupuncture can help improve chronic running-related stresses. If you have a problem with your form, the pain will continue to return. If done properly, one session can help relieve this pain, but regular treatment can help improve flexibility and correct these problems. Some acute muscle strains may respond well to one treatment and never return. Other more chronic conditions, which come and go depending on an individual’s conditioning or intensity of training, may require several sessions to reduce the severity of pain or tension and may be best followed up by a program of physical therapy and stretches to prevent recurrence. Finally, there is the scenario of more severe or chronic conditions, which have seen little to no relief from treatment such as massage, physical therapy, chiropractic, or surgery. Such patients may see some change in their symptomatic complaints with acupuncture and should feel empowered by these changes to plan a program that best supports their body and allows them to maintain their goal levels of training. Your acupuncturist will work with you to come up with the best treatment in conjunction with your training.