Acupuncture & Herbology for Athletes
Recently I was speaking at a health expo about treating athletes with acupuncture and herbology, and the main question I kept getting was “how does it work?” There were many different types of athletes there: tennis players, triathletes, cyclists, basketball players, runners, and more. So I went into a bit more depth about “how it works.”
Acupuncture and herbology is effective in treating sports injuries because of the holistic context in which the human condition is observed, diagnosed, and then treated. The patient is viewed as a collective series of eco systems that are in a relative state of balance, or relative state of imbalance! Patients can have energetic deficiencies in particular systems, and/or excesses in others, each of which can cause imbalances, sickness, eventually disease. Treating these issues with acupuncture and herbology and correcting them is the practice of preventative medicine, and essentially activates the body’s inherent healing capacities.
In looking at how Eastern Medicine works we must first consider the points, channels, and organ systems of the acupuncture network. There are 365 main acupuncture points located on 12 main channels of energy that either flow away from the trunk of the body out onto the four limbs and head, or up into the trunk from the four limbs. The structure of the channel system is quite symmetrical: three channels on the outside of the arms and legs, three channels on the inside of the arms and legs – that makes 12. Each channel also “homes” to an internal organ, which is where we may have heard things like “the Liver Channel” or “the Heart Channel.” Points are needled to acquire a “qi” sensation along the specific channel chosen in the treatment strategy, either to treat a local pain or address a deeper dynamic that is effecting the functioning of an internal organ, or both.
Acquiring qi is basically establishing contact with the body’s energetic field, and is a bit like tapping into a system of neural electrical impulses, but broader in scope. If we look to science and consider our body’s composition it becomes clear why acupuncture works so well. Lean muscle tissue contains about 75% water by weight. Blood contains 95% water, body fat contains 14% water and bone has 22% water. Skin also contains a fair amount of water. Overall the human body is about 60% water in adult males and 55% in adult females! Therefore when we insert a stainless steel needle into a living system of water and electrical impulses the needle conducts the electricity, having a local, regional, and possibly global effect on the patient.
For example, there is a fairly well known point located in the fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and index finger. This point is wonderful for treating pain in this part of the hand as well as issues of mobility in the two fingers adjacent to it, yet because it is on the Large Intestine Channel that flows up through the musculature in the wrist, arm, shoulder, neck, and face, it is also excellent in treating pain in these areas, and of course disorders of the Large Intestine Organ. These dynamics replicate in each of the other 11 channels and their corresponding internal organs, forming an extremely comprehensive energetic network for addressing virtually any type of healthcare issue. The herbal medicine in the pharmacy of Eastern Medicine also works this way, different herbs going to different areas of the body and at different levels, working in conjunction with the acupuncture protocols.
Although the illusion is powerful that we may be above or in control of nature, we actually are nature, not separate from it, and we are subject to the same natural principles, influences and laws. Over thousands of years the acupuncture channels, collaterals, and insertion points have been mapped out through studying not only the physical functioning of the body but also the relationship between the body and the psyche(mind & spirit). This includes the effects of stress on mental faculties, the effects of emotions on the mind and body, and how spirit effects the mind and body. Specific physical issues like tennis elbow, low back pain, shoulder pain, hand and wrist issues, knees and ankles, etc. are treated in the larger context of what’s going on for the patient as a whole, not only as an isolated pain. I’m often asked are there times when “a cigar is just a cigar,” when an athlete has some irritation or inflammation in a muscle or joint – and that’s all it is? Certainly some pains or injuries are more subtle in their origin than others, yet the practitioner of eastern medicine must consider how and why the irritation or inflammation is occurring in that particular patient, in their particular way, at that particular moment in time.