Acupuncture for Runners



The Boston Marathon is less than 2 weeks away!

You’ve made it through months of winter training, through cold morning runs on icy roads.  With only a few weeks until Marathon Monday many runners are starting to feel the impact of arduous training over the past few months.  I know because I see them in my clinic. 

Whether you’re a qualifying entrant in the Boston Marathon or a casual runner, acupuncture can offer relief from nagging pain, accelerate recovery, and prevent injury.

As runners, we exert significant forces on our bodies, resulting in joint pain, plantar fasciitis, bone spurs, and fatigue, to name a few.  Fascia, the connective tissue that links all of the tissues and cells of our body, bares the brunt of these forces during running.  With every heel strike, running transfers repetitive stress along fascial lines, affecting tissues from the achilles to the calf, to the knee, along the IT band, to the hips and low back.  If the body cannot tolerate the repetitive forces it may result in pelvic instability and subsequently excessive force on the knees, ankles, and feet.  By stimulating acupuncture points along the channels, acupuncture can correct imbalances in the fascia to restore stability and eliminate pain.   

Another common issue associated with overuse injuries is inflammation, especially when training requires increased mileage.  Just like most workaholics can’t seem to put the phone down, runners can’t seem to take breaks when their bodies are telling they need them. Acute inflammation, like acute stress, is adaptive and good for us.  Acute inflammation is a healing mechanism, bringing increased blood flow and healing substances to the site of injury.  However, chronic inflammation can cause pain and impaired function.  Acupuncture is an ideal treatment strategy for running-induced inflammation because it has a systemic anti-inflammatory effect on the body.  It also causes micro-injuries at each acupuncture point, which promote the adaptive, acute healing response to the local area, while reversing the damage of maladaptive, chronic inflammation.  

Overtraining, another common issue, almost seems wired into runners’ brains.  We thrive on pushing ourselves to train harder, run faster, go further.  I admire a competitive spirit, but as a health practitioner, I warn against ignoring our bodies’ signals to slow down.  Overtraining can result in fatigue, weakened immunity, poor sleep, and inability to recover.  For this reason, rest is as vital to your PR as your mileage.  Sometimes rest comes in the form of cross-training.  Finding a restorative practice, such as yoga or pilates, can be the perfect complement to your training.  When I began experiencing shin splints towards the end of my training for the Boston Marathon, I slipped into my speedo and hit the pool running… aqua running, that is.  I recommend aqua jogging to anyone with repetitive stress injuries that need time to heal, but a mind that won’t quit or can’t accept taking a break from running.  I was pain free and perfectly conditioned on Marathon Monday thanks to my time in the pool… along with acupuncture of course. 

Acupuncture helps accelerate recovery by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the restorative counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system, which is activated during times of stress…and overtraining.  As the “fight or flight system,” the sympathetic nervous system is naturally activated by running.  Therefore, acupuncture is an ideal antidote to overtraining as it resets the nervous system and facilitates rest and recovery.  

In addition to acupuncture, I recommend the following lifestyle and diet modifications to enhance the benefits of treatment and keep you healthy throughout your training:

  1. Anti-inflammatory Diet

    1. Reduce or eliminate inflammatory foods such as sugar, gluten, dairy, chemicals and additives
    2. Increase intake of anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger and turmeric; food such as leafy green vegetables, beets, broccoli, blueberries, pineapple; and foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  
  2. Make homemade bone broth

    1. Bone broth is chockfull of nutrients and minerals that aid healing and regenerate tissue.  The collagen in bone broth helps promote bone, ligament, and joint health.
  3. Cross-train

    1. By definition, repetitive stress injuries occur when you repeat the same action consistently.  Prevent repetitive stress injuries by alternating days of running with weight lifting, swimming, yoga, or another sport or activity. This will help engage other muscles that aren’t active during running, such as lateral glutes, to help maintain optimal, injury-resistant running form.  
  4. Listen to your body, and heed it’s warnings

    1. Your body will tell you when you need to rest.  Don’t ignore the warnings or it will set you back far longer than a weekly rest day.   
    2. If you are experiencing fatigue, insomnia, or pain, these are indications that you need to take a break… and make an acupuncture appointment!