Champion ultramarathoner Scott Jurek was playing soccer last summer just three days before an important 100-miler when he sprained his ankle trying to run down the ball. Needing a quick fix, he did not pop ibuprofen or any other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Jurek, who is also a physical therapist in Seattle, a vegan, and a proponent of "natural" therapies, started with the athlete's traditional RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression (wrapping his ankle), and elevation. He also infused his meals with the anti-inflammatory spices ginger and garlic and took the herbal supplements arnica and bromelain to reduce pain.
"Homeopathic therapies allow me to access my body's healing potential," Jurek says. "Alternative medicine aims to resolve imbalances and solve the problem rather than just relieve symptoms."
Francis O'Connor, M.D., a runner and medical director of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance in Bethesda, Maryland, says that Jurek's au naturel approach is increasingly popular. "I've been at track meets where the line of runners waiting to see a chiropractor or massage therapist is much longer than the line to see an orthopedist," he says. "It's important to have a good medical evaluation. But runners can find relief using complementary medicine as well. Alternative therapies tend to place a greater focus on biomechanics, nutrition, and alignment, details that can solve runners' problems."
Jurek says his rehab recipe worked for him. He went on to win the Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run, setting a course record of 26:08. Even with that success, he acknowledges that there is no one fast fix for everyone. Runners need to discover what methods work best for their bodies and particular injuries. (For pain that's severe or chronic, see a medical doctor.) Here are five popular therapies to consider adding to your recovery and rehab regimen.
AcupunctureThe Promise: This ancient Chinese practice involves inserting fine needles in specific areas of the body to improve circulation, restore energy, and promote healing, says Patricia Piant, an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Integrative Medicine Program in Glenview, Illinois.
The Science: Research has been controversial, due to the difficulty of creating a placebo effect with needles. But studies have shown that acupuncture stimulates endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and also increases range of motion.
Who Should Try It: In 1996, the World Health Organization issued a report on the efficacy of acupuncture, saying that it could benefit patients with knee pain, plantar fasciitis, sprains, lower-back pain, and osteoarthritis.