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Acupuncture and Athletic Performance by Nancy Cohn Morgan

Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is one of the oldest forms of medicine on the planet dating back to 200 BCE.  Chinese Warriors are thought to be one of the first practitioners of acupuncture.  They used acupuncture to stay strong, balanced and to help heal their wounds from battle.  For years in the United States acupuncture has been viewed as an alternative treatment for pain.  November 1997 the National Institute for Health (NIH) recognized acupuncture as a viable therapy for some pain disorders such as: pain from surgery, nausea from pregnancy or chemotherapy, tennis elbow and carpal tunnel. In the area of sports performance the use of acupuncture for the prevention and care of athletic injuries, has been slow to be recognized as a viable and effective branch of sports medicine.  The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is one of the main regulating bodies for athletic trainers and sports performance in the United States.  In their material and text books I have not yet come across the acknowledgment, recommendation or the reference of the effectiveness of acupuncture in sports.  It is time that that changes and for acupuncture to take its place among the other sports medicine modalities.

In other countries Acupuncture has been accepted as an effective form of treatment for athletes.  In the winter Olympics of 1998, the Austria downhill skier Hermann Maier was treated with acupuncture after a devastating fall only to come back and win two gold metals.  In China at the summer Olympics of 2008 acupuncture was available and used by the athletes.  I have been practicing acupuncture for over 25 years and have had the opportunity to treat all kinds of athletes.  I have treated recreational, competitive and elite athletes.  I have had the privilege to treat successfully a three time Olympic Biathlon Skier, a National College Rodeo finalist bronco rider, College NCAA Division 1 woman’s basketball player, world-class swimmers, skiers, runners, bicyclists and tennis players.  Some of the injuries I see include trauma, and overuse, such as sprains, strains, tendonitis, bursitis, tennis elbow and carpal tunnel. Acupuncture is not only effective for pain it also helps with insomnia, anxiety, and digestive problems, which can sometimes affect an athlete’s performance ability.  Athletes have told me that they feel an increased clarity, an inner calmness and more centered after an acupuncture treatment.  Acupuncture is a drugless form of medicine and with elite athletes having to be drug tested for their sport; acupuncture can be an optimum treatment for them.

Mukaino Yoshito, M.D is a Professor on the faculty of Sports and Health Science at Fukuoka University in Japan.  He has practiced, documented, lectured and written extensively on the benefits of acupuncture in Sports.  In his book Sports Acupuncture The Meridian Test And Its Applications he goes into how he uses acupuncture through a technique that he has developed and called the Meridian Test ( M-Test).  He uses range of motion in his selection of acupuncture points and has documented many cases of the effectiveness of acupuncture.[1]

The Five Elements theory (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wind) and Eight Principles

(Yin /Yang, Internal / External, Cold / Hot and Deficiency / Excess) are the foundation for the practice of acupuncture. Yin and Yang are two opposing but complementary forces that work together to develop, and sustain balance. Agonist and antagonist muscles and muscle groups do just that with concentric and eccentric movements.  Agonist is defined as a muscle group that is primarily responsible for specific joint movement when contracting.  Antagonist is defined as a muscle or muscle group that counteracts or opposes the contraction of another muscle or muscle group.[2]  When we study medians and the flow of energy through the body we primarily look at balance through the parameters of excess and deficiency.  In sports medicine from over use or trauma of these muscle groups acupuncture can be very effective way to clear the trauma and rebalance the energy.  I think it is time that acupuncture claims its rightful place among the preferred modalities for the treatment and care of athletes in their performance, prevention and rehabilitation of sports injuries.

Nancy Cohn Morgan, L.Ac., NCCAOM  has a degree from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego and is now studying Kinesiology, Exercise Science at Colorado Mesa University.  She has a private practice in Grand Junction, CO

[1] Mukaino Yoshito, M.D., Sports Acupuncture The Meridian Test And Its Applications, Eastland Press 2008,

[2] R.T.Floyd, Manual of Structural Kinesiology, Eighteenth edition Mc Graw Hill, Pg 385