New Options for Treating Sports Injuries

By Ellen Callaway, LAc, MSOM, and Byron Russell , LAc, MSOM

Demanding job. Hectic social life. Physical fitness…
It can all seem like too much to balance. Sometimes it is. One consequence of pushing beyond one’s ability is the upsurge in repetitive stress and sports injuries. For the weekend warrior, as well as for the professional athlete, these injuries can hamper performance as well as diminish quality of life. It is an unfortunate fact that the small injuries we were able to “shake off” in youth can’t be shaken off by a more mature body. Adding insult to injury, all-but-forgotten injuries of youth may come back to haunt us years later, resulting in limited physical performance and reduced physical and emotional health. Maintaining an active lifestyle is key to slowing aging and reducing stress. Aiding the complete recovery from injury is key to enabling an active, balanced lifestyle. While many people believe that age-related degradation in performance levels is inevitable, Chinese medicine offers many techniques to enhance performance and slow the aging process.

Just as Chinese Medicine has a 3000-year history of herbal treatments to enhance sexual function and fertility, there also exists a millennia-old history of herbs and unguents employed to aid in athletic combat and recovery. The martial arts tradition leaves us a rich compendium of “secret formulas” that range from aids for high-altitude performance or healing bone fractures to liniments for pain, bruising, and headache. Olympic athletes have used such formulas to enhance endurance, speed, strength, and muscle mass.

Many athletes know that nutrition is key to healing, as well as training optimally. A robust appetite and good digestion are key to a lifetime of active health. A gradual decline in these systems may go almost unnoticed until injury or illness occurs. Poor absorption of nutrients lowers energy, weakens the body, and produces nervous tension. Muscles, ligaments and tendons lose elasticity and become prone to injury, and slower to repair themselves. Good diet and eating habits with correct herbal supplementation go a long way toward remedying this situation.

Infrasound machines were developed and studied by a veterinarian for use on racehorses and provide a new technology for treating sports injuries. Based on studies of Chinese qigong healers, these machines produce random, extreme low frequency sound waves to massage damaged tissue. Thermographic studies of racehorses and blood chemistry studies on athletes showed these sound waves to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. The results were so impressive that infrasound use has quickly spread to medical offices across the country. During this treatment, patients experience a deep relaxation at the treatment site and throughout the body. Chinese therapeutic massage has a similar benefit in clearing an injury.

Acupuncture is also well-known to reduce pain and inflammation and improve mood. Obviously these are critical factors in recovery from a sports injury. Acupuncture needle-therapy works locally by clearing stagnated blood and energy at a trauma site. Often the patient experiences an immediate improvement in pain level and range-of-motion as well as a visible reduction in swelling. Systemically, acupuncture works to balance and fine-tune the body’s meridian system, or energy channels. Elite athletes, who measure success in fractions of seconds, are particularly likely to appreciate the performance boost provided by a finely-tuned system.

Other modalities include micro-current stimulation, TENS, and Russian Stim. These are painless electrical treatments that do not require needles. They are used to enhance cellular metabolism, reduce chronic pain, stimulate tissue healing, and to enhance muscle mass.

For a long sporting life, remember these principles: treat an injury as soon as possible, and continue treatment to full recovery, in whatever treatment modality you choose. Many patients who thought themselves permanently side-lined find themselves able to compete again with proper treatment. Besides the benefits of current physical activity, you will be enhancing your health for the rest of your life.

Ellen Callaway and Byron Russell are licensed acupuncturists practicing at 1996 Union Street in the Marina . They offer complete complementary health care services, including sports injury and performance enhancement consultations. You can reach them at 359-0898 or