Like most people who discover the benefits of acupuncture, I saw it as a last resort after seeing numerous doctors and chiropractors for a nagging neck and shoulder injury. A few rounds of acupuncture quickly cured what a year of physical therapy, steroid shots, ibuprofen and muscle relaxants failed to accomplish.
WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice of medicine based on the belief that qi (vital energy) flows through the body along a network of paths, called meridians. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is believed to affect a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical state. Placement of acupuncture needles on these pathways improves energy flow, which in turn, speeds healing.
As a mom of two boys, avid Barry’s Bootcamper and martial arts practitioner working towards my second degree black belt in taekwondo, I have a laundry list of aches and pains. After receiving regular acupuncture treatments, I made the happy discovery that while regular acupuncture was great for pain relief and healing from acute injuries, its real untapped potential was injury PREVENTION and other awesome side effects that actually improved my fitness levels and performance.
My needle guru is Los Angeles-based, Marin L. Kokin, L.Ac., a National Diplomate in Acupuncture Orthopedics. Over the year, she has poked me in every place possible to keep my engine revving through 5k’s, mud runs and martial arts smackdowns. Apparently, I’m in good company in using acupuncture as a regular part of a workout recovery regimen.
According to Ms. Kokin, “Acupuncture is a great way to prevent injuries …. anything from intense weight lifting or running the LA Marathon. For many years I have provided athletes with a program of acupuncture. The reason being is that acupuncture is an excellent way to improve blood flow to the muscle tissue – this prevents stiffness and pain from occurring. Whether it’s working on the knees, low back, shoulders and neck, or shins, it’s amazing how good you feel before, during, and after [the physical activity]. Because the muscles and joints have received additional stimulation and circulation, injuries occur less often. “
Although I still headed to the massage therapist for deep tissue work, I found that my chronic, tight shoulder muscles didn’t respond as well as they did after acupuncture. The placement of the needles on tight, sore muscles really facilitated the relaxation and release of those deep knots and muscle spasms. Especially when electrostimulation was applied to those needles.
Whenever I feel anything acting up: knees, shin splints, sciatica: I head in for a tune up to address those aches before they get out of hand and result in down time from training.
BOOSTS IMMUNE SYSTEM
‘Tis always the season for colds, flu and other nasty viruses and there’s nothing like shared equipment at the gym to spread those cooties around and sideline you from your workout. Recently, medical studies have been able to determine that acupuncture enhances the production of natural killer cells, which is the primary defense against foreign pathogens that make us sick. It also helps regulate white blood cells that help fight against infections and allergic reactions.
I noticed a definite decrease in cold sharing despite my living with two petrie-dishes with legs (a.k.a. children), and my seasonal allergies were also dramatically improved. Last year, I didn’t catch a single cold even though my snot-nosed kids were basically using me as a human Kleenex from November through April.
“Acupuncture also provides a release of serotonin which will give a sustained amount of positivity, motivation, and a sense of well-being,” says Kokin.
That’s putting it mildly. I literally feel drugged with happiness after each session. Since acupuncture stimulates the body’s natural opiates, known as endorphins and the neurotransmitter serotonin (aka “the happiness hormone), it’s no wonder that getting needled can give a buzz that rivals any runner’s high.
Not to mention, my kids and my husband really appreciated a gigglier, goofier me.
IMPROVED SLEEP AND ENERGY LEVELS
Instead of knocking back espresso shots all day, I felt naturally alert and well-rested instead of my usual normal baseline of slightly fatigued. Not to mention, I was sleeping soundly through the night for the first time in years – something I’d forgotten how to do after becoming a mother and getting years of disrupted sleep. Apparently, acupuncture is a common treatment for insomnia in China and there are scientific studies that support this in database of the National Institute of Health.
All this unbroken sleep helped my body recover quicker after workouts and helped me feel fresher and stronger at the gym or martial arts studio. The result: I was able to push harder and stronger and see quicker results. I had a classmate at my taekwondo studio notice my extra height in my jumping kicks and ask, “Whoa, what have you been doing!?” My cheesy reply: “Ancient Chinese secret!”
If you want to find a professional acupuncturist near you, Acufinder.com maintains a database of over 30.000 acupuncturists and you can search by zip code. Many health insurance plans cover acupuncture as part of their benefits so you should call your insurer to find out if it’s covered and get specific details.
You can also get low cost acupuncture at local acupuncture school for a reduced cost from an acupuncturist-in-training under the supervision of a teacher. You can find a list of schools at the American Association of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine website.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind a group setting where you receive treatment (fully clothed), in a room with other patients, community acupuncture is a low cost way to receive acupuncture. To find a clinic near your, check out the database at the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA).
Minsun Park is a blogger, writer and a black belt in taekwondo who gets her ass handed to her daily by her two sons. She’s written for iVillage, SheKnows, ePregnancy and is featured in “The Hot Mom’s Handbook” by Jessica Denay. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter: @MinsunPark