Acupuncture for Runners

The best way to treat an achilles or hamstring injury may not be ice or ibuprofen, but rather sticking needles into your body. According to a recent study, there is a scientific basis for believing that acupuncture alters the body’s perception of pain. Acupuncture has always been a little hard for me to understand. How does sticking needles in painful areas actually help to relieve pain? However, this study and the rationale behind its results helps suggest that the positive effects of acupuncture are not just a placebo effect.

In the study, researchers performed an MRI scan on people who received electrical shocks to their left ankle. MRI scans help practitioners determine the flow of blood in the body. If a part of the brain is activated, an MRI will detect the accompanying increased blood flow to that section of the brain.

After recording the level of brain activity in the pain sensing part of the brain, the researchers then strategically place acupuncture needles on the right side of each participant’s body. The researchers then performed the same shock and recorded the results. According to the subsequent MRI, the shock caused far less activation of the pain sensing region of the brain after the acupuncture treatment.

This study provides some proof that placing acupuncture needles on specific areas on the body appears to reduce the human brain’s perception of pain. But why might acupuncture work?

There are currently a number of scientific theories why acupuncture might successfully help with pain management, and as the study shows, reduce the body’s perception of pain. One theory states that placing the needles at specific points of the body promotes the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins, which help to control pain. Another theory focuses on the needles’ ability to increase blood flow to injured areas, which stimulates cells to repair themselves. However, no universally accepted theory has been created.

Even without a universal theory, runners should certainly consider acupuncture if they are battling with an injury that just won’t heal. Perhaps this ancient Chinese procedure, which seems so counter-intuitive, is the only thing that will allow the body to run again.

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