Acupuncture for runners

Training for this year's Reading Half Marathon was not all smooth, with old injuries threatening a comeback. It reminded me of a blog post I wrote back in 2015 about the five most common causes of running injuries and inspired me to get back up onto the treatment couch…

1. Injured tendons

Your tendons are made up of collagen fibres that lie neatly side-by-side in the same direction. Training too hard too soon, or training with poor biodynamics, can cause these fibres to knot and stick together, resulting in injury.

The blood supply to tendons is relatively low compared to muscles, so they take longer to recover from injury. Acupuncture, electrostimulation and Gua sha (a traditional Chinese medical technique) increase the blood supply to tendons, as well as increasing the strength and diameter of the collagen fibres, and improving their alignment. This helps tendon injuries to recover faster, and improves their strength and resilience.

2. Facial tension

Repetitive muscle movements during running cause tension in the back and lateral fascial lines, leading to injury and pain along these lines. The back fascial line is a train of connective tissue that runs from the Achilles tendon, up the calves, along the hamstrings, and through the muscles on either side of the spine. The lateral fascial line runs up the side of the leg: along the peroneal muscles and up the IT band to the TFL muscle.

The tension in these fascial lines is released by inserting hair-thin needles into acupuncture points and trigger points, and by using Chinese fascial release methods including Tui na (a type of massage) and cupping.

3. Overuse injuries

Overuse injuries produce localised inflammation. The initial inflammation is useful in the healing process, but when it goes on for too long, it can contribute to chronic pain that gets in the way of training. Over time, the localised inflammation can become systemic, throwing your body’s inflammatory response out of kilter.

Acupuncture points close to the site of the initial pain can reduce the localised inflammation, accelerate healing and reduce pain. Other acupuncture points on the body can deal effectively with systemic inflammation, rebalancing your body’s inflammatory response and helping you to recover from any future injuries more quickly.

4. Week gluteal muscles

When runners focus more on their calves and quads, and neglect their gluteals, their femurs start to rotate inwards when they run. This has a knock-on effect, putting extra strain on their knees and ankles

For these runners, I use needle-free electro-stimulation on acupuncture points to activate the gluteals. This helps to stabilise the pelvis and prevent the femurs from rotating inwards, ultimately taking the strain off the knees and ankles.

5. Overtraining syndrome

Overtraining syndrome develops when runners don’t allow their bodies to recover sufficiently for the level of training they are doing. Their bodies becomes stuck in ‘fight or flight’ mode, exhausting their reserves and producing symptoms like fatigue, poor concentration, insomnia and compromised immune function. When severe, the symptoms of overtraining syndrome can also include chronic fatigue or ME, depression and a chronically elevated heart rate.

Acupuncture is a very effective way to increase the intensity of your rest. (Yes, rest can be just as intensive as training.). It does this by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, flicking the switch that puts your body into ‘rest and repair’ mode instead of ‘fight or flight’. This helps in recovery from overtraining syndrome, and makes it possible to maintain higher intensity training without developing the syndrome.

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