acupuncture for sports injuries

Traditional acupuncture has an extraordinary ability to provide quick pain relief and speedy rehabilitation to injury of the muscular skeletal system.  Injuries are a common occurrence for anyone doing physical activity or organised sport.  Whether you are a professional or amateur athlete, fitness enthusiast or ordinary person exercising for health benefits, chances are you have previously experienced physical injury and likely will again.  The strategies used by traditional acupuncture to heal traumatic injury are sophisticated and time tested, and often work much faster than conventional care. 

To illustrate the process of how we utilise traditional traumatology methods at our Gold Coast acupuncture clinic, I will discuss the treatment of strains and sprains.  These conditions are the result of tissue damage.  The type of tissue involved differentiates these terms.  Tendons connect muscles to bones, contraction and lengthening of muscle tissue allows movement and locomotion of our bodily structures.  When tendinous/ muscular tissue is overstretched and torn, it is called a strain.  Ligaments connect bones to bones, and are responsible for reinforcing a joint and keeping its movement within certain limits.  When a ligament is overstretched and torn it is called a sprain.   Tissue damage causes inflammation, and therefore the injured area will likely become swollen, hot, red, painful and difficult to use. 

When treating strains and sprains it is critical to promote effective tissue healing.  In my practice, I use four principals to achieve this:

Acupuncture needling for an ACL injury at our Gold Coast acupuncture clinic.
  1. Controlling inflammation

  2. Encouraging movement

  3. Eliminating tissue abnormalities

  4. Restoring confidence and strength


The healing process requires inflammation; unfortunately it is an uncomfortable experience, which is why we attempt to control it.  Regardless of the approach taken it is critical to promote effective healing.  In modern medicine, it is conventional to ice the site of an injury.  In Traditional East Asian Medicine, there is a preference to warm the area.  Both approaches aim to control the inflammatory process so that pain, heat, swelling and poor function can be minimised.  I have found the value of icing to be limited, as the reaction of the body to a cold stimulus inhibits the healing of damaged tissue.  From a modern medical perspective, tissue damage stimulates the body to send cells and proteins to the local area in order to promote healing.  Icing practices restrict local vascular circulation, preventing these cells and proteins from efficiently reaching the site of damage, and thus delaying the healing process.  In contrast, using heat to warm the injury site is supportive of the body’s healing mechanisms.  Heat increases local vascular circulation ensuring cells and proteins reach the site of injury.  Furthermore, increasing vascular circulation allows excessive heat to be discharged through sweating of the local area, hence causing some cooling.  In extreme circumstances of swelling, one may remove congested blood and fluids through therapeutic bleeding.  This clears stagnation from the area allowing the body to more effectively send in new cells and proteins to advance the healing process. 

At my clinic, I use the logic of applying heat to control inflammation and promote healing.  This is accomplished by applying moxibustion (heat therapy) on top of the skin, or on top of an acupuncture needle at the site of injury.  Therapeutic bleeding, if required, usually involves removing only a few drops of blood.  However, in certain circumstances, therapeutic bleeding may be done in conjunction with cupping to remove several millilitres of blood.  In most cases, excessive interference with the inflammatory process leads to delayed healing, which is why we do not attempt to eliminate inflammation.   


Another principal I use to promote effective healing is to encourage movement with active rest.  By doing so, we are maintaining vascular circulation through the injury site, which is critical to advancing the healing process.  Active rest is to pursue moving as much as possible without aggravating tissue damage. Obviously, this needs to be approached with caution, but not fear.  Outside the epicentre of trauma, resolving any patterns of restriction in connected muscles and joints assists the patient to feel more comfortable whilst attempting movement.  Acupuncture, moxibustion and massage are particularly suited to releasing muscular and joint restrictions related to an injury. 


The desired outcome of the healing process is the repair of damaged tissue with healthy functional tissue.  This occurs in skeletal muscle with a neat fibrous patch being constructed at the site of damage. In Traditional East Asian Medicine, it was of paramount importance to promote effective healing.  Defective healing, called blood stagnation in the traditional vernacular, was associated with persistent pain, unresolved inflammation, formation of tissue abnormalities and reduced physical conditioning.  Initial management strategies of controlling inflammation and encouraging movement gets the process of healing off to a positive start, and as a result the patient will feel they are improving.  In the next stage, action is taken to ensure the repair of healthy functional tissue by eliminating or reducing any tissue abnormalities that begin to form.  Often these abnormalities are felt as hard indurations on palpation and represent the formation of excessive fibrosis and unresolved healing.  Improvements in tissue state are linked to better healing outcomes.   Acupuncture, moxibustion and massage excel at reducing induration of tissue, which supports an effective healing process.    

Shoulder pain diagnosis at our Gold Coast Acupuncture clinic


After an injury, strength and confidence must be restored to completely heal.  From a physical perspective, if there has been significant time out from physical activity/ sport, or if injury was extensive, the patient will need to rebuild their physical conditioning.  Additionally, from a mental perspective, confidence must be regained so that the patient believes the injured site is no longer damaged.  The best way to achieve both of these things is to modify your physical activity to easily achievable goals.  Furthermore, specific physical rehabilitation is sometimes required and a physiotherapist can be useful for guidance.  Movement and exercise will promote vascular activity and maintain tissue healing.  Treatment with acupuncture, moxibustion and massage can continue through this period but must be done in conjunction with movement and exercise.      


There is an old saying in Traditional East Asian Medicine, “where there is pain there is stagnation, where there is stagnation there is pain.”  This saying exemplifies the importance of promoting circulation and improving tissue state for the effective healing of pain and trauma.  On the Gold Coast, we have an active community, whether you are an athlete of not, Traditional East Asian Medicine has lots to offer in the treatment of trauma and injury. 

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