5 Ways Acupuncture Can Enhance Athletic Performance

May 9, 2023

In the ancient Chinese medicine of acupuncture, thin needles are gently inserted into specific areas of the body, stimulating blood flow to speed the recovery of certain ailments.

Henry Ford HealthIt can be used as a treatment for everything from headaches and unbalanced hormones to joint pain and weakened immune systems. Acupuncture is also popular among athletes, as many of them incorporate it into their wellness regimens to stay in peak physical condition.

“Back in the day, athletes ate steak, smoked cigars and drank whiskey during the week and then played football on Sunday,” says Thomas Betts, a sports medicine acupuncturist with Henry Ford Health System. “But today, to improve their performance, athletes are attacking the body from every angle possible with diet, lifestyle and exercise. NBA players, for example, have talked about how acupuncture keeps them feeling their best.”

But you don’t have to be an NBA star to reap the benefits of acupuncture. Whether you’re a professional or student athlete, or you exercise and play sports for fun or to challenge yourself, here are ways acupuncture can boost your game:

  1. Acupuncture can help you recover more quickly from an injury. “If a muscle is torn, acupuncture won’t put it back together, but for sprains and strains, muscle soreness and tendonitis, acupuncture can decrease inflammation and speed the healing process,” says Betts.
  2. Acupuncture can reduce the need for “rest days.” If you just had an intense workout and your muscles are sore, getting acupuncture afterward can loosen the muscles and decrease soreness so you don’t have to take a day off to recuperate before training again.
  3. Acupuncture can improve flexibility, decrease muscle tension and increase muscle activation. “This is done with motor point acupuncture,” says Betts. “The motor point is where the brain attaches to the muscle via the motor nerve. By using needles to stimulate a motor point, it is like rebooting a phone or computer that isn’t working well: Motor point acupuncture is autoregulating, in that it can deactivate a tight muscle or reactivate an inhibited or weak muscle.”
  4. Acupuncture can provide immediate pain relief. “Some studies show that acupuncture can provide as much as, if not more pain relief than medication,” Betts says. “It differs for everyone, and it depends on what is being treated, but some people say they feel a difference right after a session, and others say they feel better about 20 to 30 minutes later.” Pain relief can last from a few hours to a few days.
  5. Acupuncture can help prevent injuryBecause acupuncture can reactivate weak muscles and decrease muscle tension, it can also be used as a preventative measure against injury, Betts says. But you should always still stretch before and after exercising!

Learn more about acupuncture and other integrative medicine services at Henry Ford. To make an appointment, you can request one online or by calling 1-833-246-4347.

Thomas Betts, DOAM, RAc, is a certified sports acupuncturist with Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit.

Why Spring Sports Injuries Are Common & How To Prevent Them

April 11, 2023

When spring is in the air, athletes of all ages head outdoors to play their favorite sports, including softball, baseball, tennis, lacrosse and track & field.

Henry Ford HealthUnfortunately, the change of season also ushers in injuries, says Joseph Medellin, M.D., a primary care sports medicine doctor at Henry Ford Medical Center-Jackson. A variety of factors can cause spring sports injuries, including:

► Too much or too little winter activity: With shorter days and colder temperatures, some athletes aren’t as active in winter. Even if you are going to the gym regularly, sport-specific muscles ­– like muscles in the chest and shoulder that help you throw a baseball – may weaken.  

At the start of a new sports season, a sudden increase in the demand on these muscles can lead to injury. Taking steps to get ready for spring sports before the season starts can lower this risk. It’s also not uncommon for multi-sport athletes to have games and practices year-round with multiple practices in one day. Not allowing yourself enough downtime can lead to overuse injuries, including strains and sprains.

► Transitioning outdoors: Winter sports often take place on hard surfaces, like wood basketball courts, gyms and treadmills. These surfaces are flat, making it easier to maintain your footing. Spring sports involve soft running surfaces like grass and turf that are uneven. They can also be wet, muddy or icy due to spring weather. All these circumstances increase the risk of injury due to falls.

Cold weather can also be a factor. Early spring temperatures can still be quite cold. It takes longer for muscles to warm up, and they might not work as efficiently. This can be especially troublesome with sports like softball where there are lulls in activity between innings. Playing with cold muscles can increase the risk of sprains and strains.

► Sport-specific movements: Throwing, sprinting and kicking are moves that most people don’t do on a daily basis. They require powerful motions that can stress unconditioned muscles and joints. This is especially true if you haven’t been cross-training to strengthen supporting muscles or haven’t gradually increased your intensity.

A sprinter may experience hip pain from running at full speed around the curve of a track. Rotator cuff injuries can occur in sports that involve throwing, like the javelin, shot put, and baseball and softball. Soccer players can pull their groin from repeatedly taking long kicks.

If You Suspect A Sports Injury, Don’t Put Off Care

A doctor’s office is often the last place eager athletes want to be at the start of the season. But pain should not be a regular part of your training program. If you think you’ve sustained an injury, trying to push through often makes it worse.

Making time to see the doctor can be challenging, especially if you have to miss a practice or game for your appointment. But it’s worth it. “The sooner you get evaluated, the sooner we can get you on the path to recovery,” Dr. Medellin says.

The opposite can be said when treatments are delayed. “The longer you’ve had an injury, the longer it may take to heal,” explains Dr. Medellin. “And first-line treatments aren’t as likely to be successful, which can mean more time away from your sport.”

Sports Injury Treatments That Keep You In The Game

Seeing a doctor doesn’t always mean you’ll have to sit out the season. Treatment may include intermittent rest, as long as you don’t have a severe injury like a stress fracture or tendon tear. “We may recommend a return to sport at a lower intensity or with additional rest days to see if the pain goes away,” says Dr. Medellin.

Patients with minor injuries might also benefit from physical therapy between practices. Physical therapists can correct poor form. They can also help you safely stretch and strengthen injured muscles to promote healing. Conditioning through Henry Ford Health's sports performance program can also speed recovery and prevent injury.

“A sports medicine doctor’s goal is to keep athletes active and involved in the sport they love,” says Dr. Medellin. “That’s what I want for my patients.”

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/sportsmedicine or call 313-651-1969.

Joseph Medellin, M.D., is a primary care sports medicine doctor at Henry Ford Medical Center-Jackson.