Rate my recovery: Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient technique that may help lifters overcome workout related injuries

APPARENTLY BEING PRICKED with very thin needles can aid muscle recovery, and its popularity is on the rise. Acupuncture, the Chinese technique of inserting tiny needles into the skin along specific points on the body to treat musculoskeletal conditions, infertility, respiratory issues, migraines, neurological problems, allergies, skin disorders, and the common cold and flu, has been tried by more than 6% of Americans—approximately 14 million people. Scientists are still trying to figure out how acupuncture works, but when it comes to healing sports injuries, studies show that it may reduce inflammatory chemicals and help increase blood flow to the injured area.

BOTTOM LINE There’s a lot of divided opinion about the effectiveness of acupuncture, but most agree that some effect is happening, however small. We suggest giving it a try to help with pain, but stop going (and paying) if you don’t feel better within a few sessions.


ORIGINS “Acupuncture came on the scene in China 3,500 to 5,000 years ago,” says Bill Reddy, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., nationally board-certified licensed acupuncturist and director of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium in Annandale, VA, “and has been practiced in the U.S. as far back as the 1860s by the Chinese laborers working on the Transcontinental Railroad.” The study and practice of acupuncture was formalised in America in the early 1980s. Today, there are 60 accredited medical schools that teach acupuncture and Oriental medicine and 28,000 practitioners licensed in 46 states.

PRICE It can vary widely—in cities expect to pay $100 to $225 for an initial evaluation and treatment, with follow-ups between $70 and $150. It may be 25–40% less in rural areas. Also, be sure to check with your medical insurance, as many providers will cover a limited number of acupuncture visits.

WHAT DOES ACUPUNCTURE TREAT Muscle tears, sprains, strains, strains, tendinitis, fractures, sciatica, headaches, tennis elbow, knee pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and nausea.

WHAT TO EXPECT After reviewing your medical history, the acupuncturist will review your body looking for “points” to access the energy flow, or chi, that’s blocked. Each point is related to a specific health issue. Once the points are found, the acupuncturist will quickly tap needles into your skin, some deeper than others, and may roll the needle back and forth. You may feel some pressure when the needle’s inserted, but most people don’t feel pain. However, once the session ends, the areas where the needles were inserted may feel numb, itch, tingle or be sore. This is a sign the chi has been found. The initial evaluation and treatment may take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours, with subsequent visits taking anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. Treatment may also include other traditional Chinese modalities like cupping and moxibustion (burning mugwort) and herbs.

EFFECTIVENESS Acupuncture may help muscles heal faster by increasing blood flow. It may also speed up the time it takes to heal tendons and ligaments tendons and ligaments, plus reduce pain and increase range of motion and functionality.

DURATION An acute injury requires fewer treatments than a chronic issue that a patient has had for years. Typical treatment plans range anywhere from one to two treatments for minor injuries, to twice a week for three to four weeks followed by once per week for a month or more.

SIDE EFFECTS Acupuncture is a noninvasive procedure but can cause bleeding/ bruising at the site of needle insertion and potential exacerbation of the condition for a short time. Adverse events are uncommon.

SUPPORTING SCIENCE “In a 2012 meta-analysis involving more than 17,000 people, acupuncture has been shown to be effective for treating various types of pain, with the strongest evidence in the treatment of back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain, chronic headache and osteoarthritis” says Reddy.

CONTRADICTING SCIENCE “Acupuncture has been investigated more thoroughly than any other form of alternative medicine,” says David Colquhoun, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at University College London. “After over 3,000 trials, just about every paper ends with ‘more research is needed.’ The totality of the evidence indicates zero effects, or at the most a tiny difference that has no clinical significance. The difference seen in studies, though probably real, is too small to be of any noticeable benefit to patients.”