University researchers in Sydney, Australia undertaking a systematic review, have found preliminary evidence for the usefulness of acupuncture to enhance exercise performance and post-workout recovery. They looked at four trials, of which three set out to determine the effect of acupuncture on exercise performance. One of these trials found significant enhancements in peak power output and blood pressure compared to controls. Two trials could find no effect on performance. The fourth trial evaluated the effect of acupuncture on post-exercise recovery, and found that heart rate, oxygen consumption and blood lactate were significantly lowered following acupuncture, compared with controls.
The authors recommend more high-quality studies, as there are limitations within existing literature.
(Effect of Acute Acupuncture Treatment on Exercise Performance and Postexercise Recovery: A Systematic Review. Journal of Altern & Complementary Medicine, 14 January 2013.)
A study conducted in Taiwan appears to show that ear acupuncture can enhance athletic recovery after strenuous exercise. A total of 24 male university basketball players, mean age 21, were randomly divided into two groups: one received ear acupuncture, whilst the other merely had ear tape applied and so acted as a control. Both groups were then asked to ride an exercise bike to exhaustion.
At 30 and 60 minutes after exercise, both blood lactic acid levels and heart rate, were lower in the acupuncture group. Acupuncture also appeared to increase a subject’s oxygen uptake.
(Effects of Auricular Acupuncture on Heart Rate, Oxygen Consumption and Blood Lactic Acid for Elite Basketball Athletes. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 2011.)
Researchers in Greece have shown that acupuncture can make a significant contribution to the treatment of heel pain in patients with plantar fasciitis. Thirty-eight male patients were randomly allocated among two groups: the first received ice, anti-inflammatory drugs, and a stretching and strengthening programme; the second received all of the foregoing, plus acupuncture. After two months, pain levels, mobility and function were all significantly better in the acupuncture group compared to the first group. The authors conclude that acupuncture should be considered a major therapeutic instrument, used alongside standard care, in the treatment of plantar fasciitis.
(Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis in Recreational Athletes: Two Different Therapeutic Protocols. Foot & Ankle Specialist, 25 August 2011.)
Researchers in Taiwan have found that acupuncture can reduce blood lactic acid and enhance recovery from muscle fatigue after exercise.
Thirty male basketball players were randomly assigned to three groups, acupuncture, sham control, and no treatment. After exercising to exhaustion, the acupuncture group had significantly lower heart rate, oxygen consumption and blood lactic acid than the other two groups, at thirty minutes after cessation of exercise. Blood lactic acid also remained lower in the acupuncture group, after sixty minutes. The researchers say their findings have shed some light on the development of effective acupuncture schemes to enhance recovery from exercise in elite basketball athletes.
(Effects of Acupuncture Stimulation on Recovery Ability of Male Elite Basketball Athletes. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, vol 37, no 3, 2009.)
In a prospective study of acupuncture and athletic performance, twenty male cyclists aged 18 to 30, rode a stationary bike three times a week for 20 km as fast as possible. Before each ride, they were given either acupuncture, sham acupuncture as a control, or no intervention, once each and in a random order.
Cyclists receiving acupuncture before their ride, achieved greater levels of exertion and faster cycling times, and experienced less pain.
(The Acute Effect of Acupuncture on 20km Cycling Performance. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, January 2008.)