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  • Writer's pictureKen Haydock

The Science Behind Acupuncture & Dry Needling: How It Might Assist With Your Athletic Recovery

Updated: Jan 17


Athletic recovery techniques

In the realm of holistic healing, acupuncture and dry needling has emerged as a trusted ally for athletes around the world. At Bowen Hills Acupuncture and Remedial Therapies, we’re sharing our knowledge with an in-depth look at the underlying scientific principles of acupuncture. This article seeks to demystify this practice, highlighting its potential benefits for athletic recovery and performance, as well as overall well-being.


Acupuncture’s Role in Athletic Recovery:

Acupuncture is an ancient healing method that involves inserting thin needles into specific body points. It's beneficial for athletes in three key ways: pain management, enhanced blood flow, and reduced muscle tension. 


It triggers the body's natural painkillers, such as endorphins, helping manage discomfort from intense training or injuries. The improved blood circulation from acupuncture hastens metabolic waste removal and nutrient delivery, accelerating recovery. And finally, it relaxes muscles and the nervous system, increasing flexibility and decreasing soreness. 


Many athletes use acupuncture to improve performance and speed up post-exercise recovery by leveraging the body's innate healing processes.


Acupuncture assists athletes in managing recovery from intense physical demands of sports, offering pain relief for post-exercise soreness and injuries. It alleviates muscle tension, aids in muscle activation for peak performance, addresses muscle imbalances and dysfunctions due to overuse, and potentially helps in preventing injuries.

Athletic Recovery


The Science of Needles:

Acupuncture needle insertion for athletes can trigger both neurological and biomechanical responses. When needles penetrate specific body points, they stimulate the nervous system, releasing pain-relieving chemicals like endorphins. This process can reduce pain, enhance healing, and improve muscular function - all important aspects of athlete recovery. 


Biomechanically, needle insertion can alter muscle tension and blood flow, aiding in muscle recovery and performance enhancement. These combined effects help athletes maintain optimal physical condition, manage discomfort, and potentially prevent injuries through improved body mechanics.


Athletic recovery Brisbane

Boosting Athletic Performance:

Acupuncture treatment for athletes is highly individualised, catering to the unique needs of different sports. For example, runners often face overuse injuries in the lower limbs due to repetitive impact. Their treatment typically includes examining range of motion in the ankles, knees, hips, and spine, assessing muscle strength imbalances, and palpating soft tissues for knots and trigger points. 


Practitioners adept in sports acupuncture, like those at Bowen Hills Acupuncture and Remedial Therapies, understand the typical responses of various body areas to repetitive stress and aim to treat or prevent dysfunctions caused by training demands. 


The frequency of acupuncture sessions varies, influenced by the sport's specific demands. Maintenance treatments are usually weekly or fortnightly, while athletes with injuries might need two to three sessions per week. Athletes in strength sports or those involving repetitive loading, like running, generally require regular maintenance treatments to manage their physical condition effectively.


Acupuncture for Athletic recovery

Accelerating Athletic Recovery:

Many athletes find that incorporating acupuncture into their post-training routine enhances their recovery experience, although results can vary greatly from person to person. Athletes often attribute their reduced injury rates to early intervention for minor discomforts and muscle tightness through acupuncture, preventing these issues from escalating. 


Typically, these athletes experience a sense of increased muscle looseness and reduced tightness, contributing to more fluid movement and diminished pain.


Faster recovery for athletes

Complementary Techniques:

At Bowen Hills Acupuncture, we routinely combine various therapeutic approaches in a single session. Typically, we use remedial massage during our initial assessment to identify overactive or inhibited muscles, which also aids in locating knots or trigger points for needling. Following the targeted acupuncture, we often apply specialised manual techniques to move muscles and joints through their full range of motion, ensuring restoration of optimal function. Additionally, cupping is frequently included, either based on the patient's preference or if I identify areas with poor circulation that might benefit from cupping therapy.


Brisbane Athletic recovery

The Future of Acupuncture in Athletics:

A research paper published in June 2022 by Chi-Tsai Tang MD and Bo Song MD titled “Acupuncture and Dry Needling for Sports Performance and Recovery” compiled together the findings of various studies and tests conducted by experts to assess the overall effectiveness of these techniques for athletes recovering from pain, injuries, and other conditions. 


The paper concluded that acupuncture (and dry needling) can help manage pain and improve athletic performance when conducted safely by qualified practitioners. These findings point towards a bright future for this practise, as it states the following: 


Acupuncture and dry needling are great treatments because they can be used in so many different scenarios. In the hands of an experienced and well-trained practitioner, acupuncture and dry needling can be used to successfully treat an array of conditions and help athletes to perform at their best.


Book an Acupuncture Appointment 

Our Brisbane acupuncture services are delivered by qualified practitioners and can help athletes with pain relief, injuries, and other conditions. To learn more about whether acupuncture may be suitable for you, or to book an appointment, contact our office today by calling us on 0434 411 654 or use our online bookings page.

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