Acupuncture and fitness are like peanut butter & jelly, like Astair & Rogers, like Batman & Robin. Acupuncture, one of the main treatments of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has been used for thousands of years to help thousands—or more likely, millions—of people to increase wellness, improve energy, and relieve pain. Fitness has done the same.
Some professional athletes that use acupuncture include NFL football players like Brett Favre, Matt Hasselback, Marcellus Wiley, and Will Demps; Major league baseball players like David Cone, Mark McGuire, and Randy Johnson; NBA basketball players like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Grant Hill, and Dwayne Wade; NHL hockey players like Jaromir Jagr; and Ironman World Champions Chrissy Wellington and Craig Alexander.
Athletes ask a lot of their bodies. They tire themselves, injure themselves, and push past their physical and mental limits. But they also recognize the need to take extra care of themselves, and acupuncture is a great part of that program. You may not be a professional athlete, but many of you do push your limits, juggling a multitude of responsibilities.
One of the key foundational pieces of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine is the balancing of Qi. Qi can be loosely translated as “energy.” Where there is a lack of Qi, there is weakness. Some TCM professionals translate Qi as oxygen, so it is easy to understand how a lack of oxygenated blood circulation can result in weakness. Where there is an excess of Qi caused by a blockage, there is pain. An injury, tight muscle, or inflammation can cause this blockage. Acupuncture helps to improve oxygenation to tissues by moving blood circulation. This can help to speed healing of an injury. It also helps release tight muscles and take down swelling. This is an over-simplification of TCM principles and actions, but the results are the same. Qi becomes balanced and healing and wellness transpires.
A bonus response that many of my patients do not expect when seeking out acupuncture treatment, is the ahhhhhcupuncture effect. This is the release of endorphins—feel good hormones—that leave them feeling good. Exercise also releases endorphins. I often tell my patients that acupuncture is the easiest workout they will likely ever experience. Their bodies are busy working while they lie still on the table and often even fall asleep.
The chance to take a nap is a pleasant surprise to many first-time acupuncture patients who might otherwise guess that it will be painful. I do not subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy when it comes to my therapies. Healing is most easily achieved when the body is not in a “fight or flight” response.
Like exercise, the benefits can start working right away, but lasting changes are usually not immediately noticeable. The body does, however, seem to have an “acupuncture memory,” just as it has muscle memory. Changes are cumulative and seem to occur faster and at a deeper level when we are consistent at taking care of our health. This means getting to the root of health issues, not just masking the symptoms. Acupuncture is more than simply putting needles in where symptoms occur. Acupuncture is part of a complex and complete medical system that considers the whole body and the connections of all the pieces that comprise you—physical, mental, energetic, and emotional.
Even if the idea of acupuncture needles is still scary, Traditional Chinese Medicine has much else to offer. Chinese herbals, food, and other therapies can be applied using the foundations of this practice. Though you would be following in the footsteps of millions of others who have used TCM, your therapy is personalized, as your genetic, chemical, biological, and energetic fingerprint is unique. If you are working on getting fit, consider TCM as part of that perfect fit.
Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. After ten years of running her own practice, she has joined an integrative medicine team where she is still happily showing through her patients, lectures, and writing that this ancient medicine is also a progressive modern medicine.