Many injured athletes use acupuncture for relief. When he was playing in the NFL, former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber turned to it frequently for his muscle strains. “It helps your body recover from injury faster,” says Marianne Fuenmayor, MSLAc, chairwoman of the acupuncture department at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, in New York City. One theory, according to Dr. Cheng, is that your body may respond to the needles by further increasing the flow of oxygenated blood to the injured area, which helps speed the healing process.
You should see your doctor if you’re injured, but if he or she says you don’t need any treatment beyond rest, then ask if it’s okay to go to an acupuncturist to help manage the pain or discomfort. “I’ve used it very effectively to treat ankle sprains, muscle soreness, tennis elbow, and tendinitis,” says John Cianca, M.D., a rehabilitation specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the president of the American Road Race Medical Society.
This year, a Johns Hopkins study found that people with chronic tendinitis or arthritis who had 20-minute acupuncture sessions twice a week for 6 weeks had less pain and disability than people who only thought they were receiving acupuncture (the needles didn’t penetrate the skin). Additionally, a 2008 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that participants who were jabbed for muscle soreness 24 and 48 hours after they exercised to exhaustion reported significantly less pain than people who didn’t receive the treatment.