Updated: Mar 24
by David Derdiger, L.Ac.
Most consumers of acupuncture are adults, but young adults and children can also benefit from acupuncture. Both middle school and high school aged athletes can benefit in two different ways from acupuncture and auxiliary treatment methods: performance enhancement and injury recovery. Here at Source Healing, we've treated many young athletes looking for physical support so they can perform their best with confidence.
Performance enhancement in competitive athletes has many facets, but one of the highest priorities is increasing the rate of recovery post-exercise so that athletes can get back to training or be ready for the next competition as soon as possible. To this end, acupuncture, guasha, and cupping help in several ways. Acupuncture enhances circulation1, leading to better oxygenation of tissues, and thus might decrease or delay muscle fatigue. Guasha is an auxiliary treatment method that involves using a smooth-edged tool to perform repeated, unidirectional press-rubbing motions until small red dots called petechiae appear on the skin; it has been shown to increase perfusion of surface issues and decrease muscle pain at the site of application and elsewhere in the body through anti-inflammatory effects2, with effects sustained for up to one-week post-treatment3. Cupping employs glass, plastic, or silicone cups in combination with fire or a pneumatic pump to generate a vacuum that is applied to the surface of the body; tissues are drawn into the cup, pulling stagnation from deeper layers out into the interstitial spaces to be metabolized. If oil is applied to the skin, the cups can be slid over the body surface to create a shearing motion that excels at breaking up myofascial adhesions and releasing trigger points. Acupuncture has also been shown to limit the occurrence of both acute and delayed onset muscle soreness4, both of which are known to interfere with regular training regimens, and effect quality of life outside of athletic training and competition.
When it comes to injury recovery, a 2020 systematic review5 of case reports using acupuncture for sports injuries in athletes found that, “[I]t was confirmed that acupuncture was applied for treating various types of sports injuries experienced by athletes. Acupuncture can help relieve short-term pain and recover from dysfunction and has been used as a useful, noninvasive, and conservative modality for managing sports injuries such as lateral meniscus rupture, femoral acetabular impingement, ganglion cysts, and sports hernia. In addition, acupuncture has been suggested as a treatment worth trying for diseases such as yips and delayed onset muscle soreness. The included cases showed some potential of acupuncture in the treatment of various types of sports injuries, beyond pain control in musculoskeletal disorders.” There are even case reports of acupuncture being the crucial therapeutic element in helping pediatric patients recover from chronic post-concussive symptoms due to sports-related injuries6.
At Source Healing we’ve treated many teenaged athletes and had great success in helping them get back to doing what they love. In one case over the summer, we helped a high school soccer player suffering from burning pain in the hamstrings and calves. With a combination of acupuncture and guasha over several sessions they were able to compete in a four-game tournament, and play through a nation-level invitational. We also helped a going-on high school athlete suffering from Sever’s disease, a condition where inflammation at the calcaneal growth plate causes intense pain in the heels. This patient’s pain was so intense they would eventually have to walk off the field during lacrosse practice, unable to continue. After two acupuncture treatments the patient was able to run the bases during baseball, and after five treatments was able to participate in a 90-minute lacrosse practice without pain. We've also treated a dancer, a young pole-vaulter, a basketball player, and football player - just to name a few!
If you are the parent or guardian of a young athlete, strongly consider making acupuncture a part of your child’s routine care to improve their performance, recover from injuries, and facilitate a mind-body awareness that has far-reaching benefits beyond the field, court, rink, and stage.
David Derdiger, L.Ac.
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1. Kim, S.-Y., Min, S., Lee, H., Cheon, S., Zhang, X., Park, J.-Y., Song, T.-J., & Park, H.-J. (2016). Changes of local blood flow in response to acupuncture stimulation: A systematic review. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4923553/
2. Nielsen, A., Knoblauch, N. T. M., Dobos, G. J., Michalsen, A., Kaptchuk, T. J. (2007, September 29). The effect of Gua Sha treatment on the microcirculation of surface tissue: A pilot study in healthy subjects. EXPLORE. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1550830707001772?via%3Dihub
3. Yuen, J. W. M., Tsang, W. W. N., Tse, S. H. M., Loo, W. T. Y., Chan, S.-T., Wong, D. L. Y., Chung, H. H. Y., Tam, J. K. K., Choi, T. K. S., & Chiang, V. C. L. (2017, March 21). The effects of Gua Sha on symptoms and inflammatory biomarkers associated with chronic low back pain: A randomized active-controlled crossover pilot study in elderly. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0965229917301772
4. Cardoso R;Lumini-Oliveira JA;Santos MJ;Ramos B;Matos LC;Machado J;Greten HJ;Franconi G; (n.d.). Acupuncture can be beneficial for exercise-induced muscle soreness: A randomised controlled trial. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31987567/
5. Lee, J.-W., Lee, J.-H., & Kim, S.-Y. (2020, November 6). Use of acupuncture for the treatment of sports-related injuries in athletes: A systematic review of case reports. MDPI. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/21/8226
6. Lin, K., & Tung, C. (2016, August 1). Acupuncture for recovery from pediatric sport-related concussion ... Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acu.2016.1181