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The Growth of Chinese Medicine in Sports

By Michael K Butler BA; PTA; CSCS*D; RSCC*D NMT

acupuncture
Athletes are finding the value and “edge” obtained through Traditional Chinese Medicine practices like acupuncture and cupping.

When it comes to competition, both professional and amateur athletes are always looking to gain an edge on their opponents. While strength, conditioning and core training are still essential in the daily regimen, recovery and injury prevention is now a primary focus. Over training can often lead to injury, and many pros are taking extra measures to prevent injury and expedite healing using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Standard western techniques for treating athletic injuries include ultrasound therapy, TENS (electrical stimulation) units, massage therapy, and the all-time favorite RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Ultrasound uses sound waves to break down scar tissue and improve local circulation, while a TENS unit blocks the pain going from the brain to the area being treated providing temporary pain relief. RICE uses ice to decrease inflammation while elevating and compressing the area being treated, and massage reduces muscle spasms, pain and inflammation. 

But many are finding that TCM enhances healing in less time than these western methods by stimulating the body’s own natural healing response. Famous athletes like Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant, Grant Hill, Aaron Rodgers and AJ Burnett note a difference in their recovery using acupuncture, cupping, Qigong, and dietary and herbal supplementation as part of their TCM regime. 

Acupuncture uses small targeted needles to reduce pain and stagnation to open up the body’s meridians. It is often practiced with moxibustion, freshly burnt herbs, applied to the skin to help relax muscles and increase effects. Cupping is another therapy using suction cups to stimulate blood flow and muscle repair, while herbal supplements and specific foods are often prescribed to treat a variety of deficiencies or ailments. 

Chinese medical massage, also known as Tui (to push) Na (to grab or squeeze), uses the theory of stimulating the flow of “Qi” and addressing stagnation that can lead to disease, emotional distress and pain. It’s much like acupuncture as it uses meridian pathways and trigger points to help balance the Yin and Yang in the body, as does Qigong, also known as Chinese yoga, which works to align the body and re-establish proper movement through a structured program.

While the effectiveness of acupuncture has now been scientifically proven, the FDA has not fully supported all that Chinese medicine has to offer. The athletic community, however, seems in favor of these time-tested therapies for their ability to effectively and efficiently prevent and heal injuries naturally.

Michael Butler is co-owner of Kinetix Health and Performance Center in Palm Desert. He holds a state license as a physical therapist assistant, national certifications of distinction through the NSCA as a strength and conditioning coach, Poliquin International state coach and as a Full Body Active Release Techniques Practitioner. He can be reached at (760) 200.1719 or michael@kinetixcenter.com. 

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