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Acupuncture for Runners: Why it Works

What is Acupuncture? 

Acupuncture is the treatment of pain and injury using extremely thin (bendy, even), disposable needles. Its history dates back thousands of years in China, and although its practice and theory has evolved since being introduced to Japan, both styles share a similar focus, which is reducing pain and muscle imbalances by treating specific pressure points on the body. Acupuncture is as common as massage or physical therapy in many other parts of the world.

How Acupuncture Works

Acupuncture is intended to improve blood flow and stimulate healing with the use of tiny, hair-thin needles. The exact science of how that happens, though, is controversial.

Chinese philosophy compares the body to an energy field with two opposing forces: yin and yang. If these two forces are in balance, the body is healthy. Energy, called “qi” (pronounced “chee”) flows like rivers along pathways, or meridians, throughout the body. There are about 2,000 acupuncture points along these meridians. This constant flow of energy keeps the energy balanced, but when the flow gets disrupted, it can lead to sickness and pain. The idea behind acupuncture is that stimulating these points with needles relieves obstruction and pressure, restores the flow of energy and enables the body to heal itself.

But modern-day medicine attributes the pain relief associated with acupuncture to neurotransmitters and hormones. Western medicine claims that acupuncture works by stimulating the central nervous system to release the body’s natural chemicals that dull pain, boost the immune system and regulates various body functions.

Acupuncture for Running Injuries

As a runner, you must know that the physical fatigue and overuse injuries that runners experience are different from a regular person. More than half of all runners, recreational and elite, find themselves injured at some point during the year. Often the injury will heal itself with a little time off or with modified training plans, other injuries are more serious and require not running for long periods of time. Whether you’re chasing Olympic gold, a personal best, or just a few moments of peace, a plan that involves not running is one most runners don’t want to consider. This is usually the time a runner will seek out alternative treatments such as acupuncture. And many are pleasantly surprised by the results.

Acupuncture is credited for reducing inflammation and pain, more relaxed muscles, increased oxygen levels and quicker healing, and restoring the body’s natural balance. After races in Japan, acupuncture treatments are more common than massage at the finish line, as massage involves the stimulation of only the surface muscle and acupuncture allows treatment of deeper muscle tissue without aggravating surface muscle, which makes it a more effective and direct method of treatment.

Acupuncture also alleviates other ailments, such as anxiety, tension, nausea and is known to improve sleep and energy. One of the best things about acupuncture is that it’s completely safe, no side effects, no pills to take, no addictions to battle.

Starting Acupuncture Treatment

If you’re like most who grew up in North America, you haven’t or won’t try acupuncture for one of three reasons:

1. Acupuncture is not covered by your insurance.

2. You don’t believe it works.

3. You are afraid of needles.


1. Many insurance companies are working to include integrative medicine in healthcare plans. In fact, the inclusion of integrative and complementary and alternative medicine practices was it was mandated in the Affordable Care Act. About 38 percent of Americans use complementary medicine, and the public’s interest in holistic healthcare is on the rise.

2. The efficacy of acupuncture has been questioned by us for years. But there will always be skeptics. About everything! Your friend, their friend’s husband, your uncle, may have tried it and it didn’t work for them. Even so, if you have the slightest interest or curiosity, or a nagging injury that Western treatment isn’t helping, then why not? There are no side effects and no downside to treatment. Unlike the typical invasive or chemical treatment approach Western medicine takes.

3. Fear of needles, or trypanophobia, is the number one reason people refuse to try acupuncture. While some have a genuine phobia, others associate a needle prick to pain, which is a common misconception about acupuncture. It doesn’t hurt. The needles used in acupuncture are nothing like what you see when you get a flu shot. These needles are extremely thin, they even bend to the touch, you will probably feel something, but not what you probably think.

Take it from one of our own, Mark Matthews. He has been on hiatus from running due to a leg injury, and after months of seeing specialists, decided to try acupuncture, which is finally giving him some relief. Read about his experience. Then consider making an appointment for yourself!

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