How Acupuncture is Aiding Professional Athletes

It’s an ancient technique that some 14 million people partake in, according to the National Health Interview Survey. We’re talking about acupuncture, a holistic form of therapy in which thin needles are inserted through the skin, to stimulate certain body parts, thereby helping them “heal.” The procedure has been studied extensively as a remedy for chronic pain in areas like the back, knees and head.  

But, something else that acupuncture is now being touted for, is helping athletes recover, and professional boxers are adding it to the repertoire of post-fight remedies, including ice baths, Advil and physical therapy.  We spoke to California-based acupuncturist Yunuen “June” Beristain, the daughter of professional boxing trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, and Founder of Amplify Acupuncture, in Santa Monica.  

Swelling & Inflammation

Acupuncture helps with swelling and inflammation because it “maximizes local blood circulation at the area of injury,” said Beristain.  “This improves recovery time by bringing down swelling and bruising.”

Pain Relief

Acupuncture stimulates the production of endorphins, which are our own nervous system pain killers. “In this way, acupuncture can help with soreness related to daily training, pain related to acute injury after a fight, or chronic pain from old injuries. Pain reduction is the most sought-after acupuncture benefit by fighters,” explained Beristain.

Increased Mobility

In areas of the body that have suffered from acute or chronic injury, the reduction of inflammation and pain result in improved mobility in those Beristain has treated.

Stress Relief

Boxing, like many others, is a sport that creates an intense stress response in its athletes. “While the hormones of the parasympathetic nervous system (stress hormones) are very important to the practice of boxing, chronic stress can decrease a fighter’s recovery response. A chronically stressed system takes longer to recover; thus, it is very important for fighters to balance their stress response and stimulate their parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation responses) in order to stimulate recovery,” said Beristain. She said fighters and other athletes, greatly benefit from the stress relief acupuncture brings.

Training Recovery

Professional fighters endure rigorous and consistent training every day, which only intensifies in preparation for a fight. “In order for their performance to continue to improve, muscles and other tissues need to recover successfully between training sessions. Acupuncture stimulates the body’s own recovery systems, to make this happen.”

Diet Compliance

Many fighters struggle with maintaining a target weight and sticking to their recommended diets. “Acupuncture is great to help with diet compliance as it curves their cravings and helps control their diet choices. Ear acupuncture and the application of ear-seeds (tiny seeds that are secured to the ear with an adhesive tape), is most helpful to help with diet and weight control.”