Acupuncture: "Sticking it" to Injuries

In my nearly 30 years of practicing medicine, I have treated multiple athletes and weekend warriors with injuries. In the past, I would often describe traditional therapies for acute injuries, such as intermittent icing, wound compression and the use of anti-inflammatory agents. However, recent research by the Academy of Sports Medicine suggests we may have over-treated injuries with excessive use of anti-inflammatory agents such as ibuprofen.

The concern is that in trying to control swelling, we may actually impede the bodies' natural response to heal. However, it's important to note that excessive swelling could be harmful if it causes pain or decreases blood flow. There are also the potential side effects that can occur from anti-inflammatory agents such as ulcers, internal bleeding and kidney dysfunction.

With this in mind, I decided to change my tactic for treating many athletic injuries. For the last 10 years, I have turned to acupuncture. Most people believe that acupuncture only offers pain relief. This is true, but, more importantly, acupuncture helps facilitate injury repair and wound healing by accessing energy pathways called meridians. The placement of the acupuncture needles on these pathways improves energy flow, which speeds healing.

I am continually amazed at the responses in my patients who use acupuncture. I have treated multiple athletes who have sustained acute strains and sprains with acupuncture. They returned to exercise in almost half the time it normally takes. The beauty of acupuncture is that there are little, if any, potential side effects.

Acupuncture is also a great treatment for chronic musculoskeletal issues like tendonitis, bursitis and arthritis by improving energy flow over these inflamed regions. Again, the common treatment has been prescribing anti-inflammatory medication and, if that is not successful, steroid injections. These have serious potential side effects, including possible tendon rupture. With acupuncture, healing is facilitated without a medication which makes it a "natural" remedy.

Additionally, it should be noted that acupuncture can also be useful for energy replacement. This is a concept that is difficult to comprehend from a typical Western eye, but many Eastern medical therapies (such as acupuncture) are designed to reinvigorate an individual and help with excessive fatigue. As every athlete knows, it is imperative to have as much energy as possible to reach your peak performance.

It is important to note that an individual needs to be ruled out for obvious causes of fatigue such as anemia, uncontrolled blood sugar, and low thyroid or overtraining syndrome before using acupuncture for energy replacement.

Acupuncture may not be for everyone, especially those with a needle phobia. Consult your physician and consider acupuncture therapy for the treatment of the following injuries:

  • Acute strains and sprains
  • Acute and chronic arthritis
  • Tendonitis and bursitis
  • Low back pain
  • Low energy


Canyon Ranch pioneered the evolution of wellness lifestyle and has been an industry leader for 30 years. Lead by a team of expert physicians and other health and wellness specialists, Canyon Ranch operates the world's most celebrated collection of life-enhancement properties with the goal to inspire people to make a commitment to healthy living. 

Stephen Brewer is the medical director at Canyon Ranch in Tucson and co-author of the newly released book The Everest Principle -- How to Reach the Summit of Your Life (Hayhouse).

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