FEATURED in MAGAZINE: Acupuncture: Reversing the Stressful Effects of Running
Needles pinpoint the root cause of pain, imbalances and chronic conditions By Brett Larner ( Excerpt of an article featured in the Web Only issue of Running Times Magazine )
Growing up in North America, like many others, I originally thought of acupuncture as some exotic placebo, questionably effective and a little frightening. My first direct exposure came following a hard marathon in Tochigi, Japan, in November 2006. Looking for a post-race massage, I found that organizers were instead offering complimentary post-race acupuncture treatments. I decided to give it a go and was pleasantly surprised by the experience; a flicker of pain as the needles made contact, a dull pressure as the acupuncturist tapped the needles in position and then the sensations fading to a feeling of relaxation. A year later, I suffered a major injury to my right thigh, which showed no signs of improvement after nearly six months of medical and massage treatments. I turned to acupuncture and after only two-and-a-half months, was back to the point of running one of my fastest half marathons. My thigh injury has never recurred, and acupuncture has become a regular part of my training regimen.
Despite anecdotal evidence such as my own experience, acupuncture remains relatively uncommon as a means of treatment for runners in North America. Whether it is because of its invasive nature or lack of rigorous scientific methodology, acupuncture’s benefits compared to massage, chiropractic and other forms of alternative treatment are little known in the West. In Japan, acupuncture is as common as massage in treating the ailments that afflict marathoners. Idaten, a Tokyo clinic that offers acupuncture alongside massage and physical therapy, treats the country’s best professional and university runners as well as amateurs. “Roughly 60-70% of our clients are runners,” says the clinic’s director, Jiro Konno. “Many of the elite runners get acupuncture treatments twice a week, but even the amateur runners we treat come in once a week.”
Although several U.S.-based elites, including Deena Kastor and Shannon Rowbury, incorporate acupuncture as a means of treating an existing ailment, acupuncture may prove most beneficial as preventative medicine. Arata Fujiwara ( pictured ), 2010 Ottawa Marathon champion and course record-holder, combines frequent acupuncture treatments with massage and general physical therapy.
Chinese Origins and Japanese Evolution
Acupuncture, the treatment of pain and injury using thin, disposable needles, has a history dating back thousands of years in China. Although its practice and theory have evolved since being introduced to Japan, both styles share a similar focus: reducing pain and muscle imbalances by treating specific points of the body. Russ Stram, a New York-based licensed acupuncturist & physical therapist, practices a mixed style. “Acupuncture follows Chinese medicine theory with the philosophy of restoring balance to the body,” he explains. “A practitioner takes a thorough history and examines the body for tight and painful areas, choosing points based on the meridian point system.”
Triggering the Body to Heal
In terms of injury recovery, the point at which most people seek physical treatment, Acupuncture is able to promote increased blood flow to an area and stimulate healing —similar to a histamine response—from the slight irritation that the needles produce,” says Stram. “Tight muscular restrictions can be released, which will allow the body to work on healing itself instead of getting constantly restrained by poor patterns of movement caused by pain or restriction.” About the author: Brett Larner lives in Tokyo, where he is the editor of Japan Running News. A lifelong runner, acupuncture has been a part of his training regimen for the last three years; he visits his specialist once or twice weekly when training strenuously, and about twice per month otherwise.
New York based Acupuncturist Russ Stram treats 2012 Olympic marathon runner, Arata Fujiwara