Can Acupuncture Be Used to Treat Sports Injuries?

Acupuncturist and Chiropractor, Dr. Allison Heffron, explains how sports injuries can occur and how acupuncture can be used as an effective means of treatment.


If you participate in sports or perform any strenuous physical activity, you may have experienced a sports injury at some point in your life. If you play in a league, you probably do not have an athletic trainer or medical team on standby like the pros do. Not everyone has the same resources available to them as a professional athlete.

How does a person participating in sports or hard labor heal their bodies? Acupuncture may be a great option for your common sports injury.

How an Acupuncturist + Chiropractor Handles Their Own Sports Injuries

First, let’s start with a little background on myself. In high school, I played field hockey and lacrosse. During college, I competed in sprint triathlons. In graduate school, I began powerlifting, and more recently, I began competing in Olympic weightlifting post graduation.

Have I gotten injured while playing these sports? You bet. Did I hope it would just resolve on its own?  Yes, but I also took any necessary actions to aid my body’s recovery.

I know as a competitive athlete it can kill you to think, “what if I can’t do this anymore because of my ‘X’ injury here?” Naturally, most people will ignore their injury. Ignorance is bliss, right? After all, we can live an immortal life in sports if we just ignore our ailments.

See how ridiculous that sounds when you read it?

It wasn’t until I received a gold medal in my most recent competition that I decided to rehabilitate myself. If I want longevity in competitive weight lifting I had to be serious about taking care of my body.

What does all of this mean for you? It means being responsible and taking a couple of weeks off from your sport-specific training to do more rehabilitative strengthening and stabilizing programs.

You may be a little rusty when you return to training, but you’ll be a much stronger athlete in the long run. It also means you’ll be receiving professional and quality treatment from a specialist.

Injury Types

There are two types of injuries you can experience. One is related to direct trauma like a kick to the knee, check to the back, or a weight falling on your toe. The other type of injury is usually due to an underlying chronic issue. An example of this would be sitting at your desk with poor posture. Your poor posture could end up overworking certain muscles while other muscles are underused. This lack of balance won’t hurt you immediately, but over time can lead to injury. An acute anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear is an injury that, more often than not, originates from a chronic issue that was waiting to present itself.

Some Fun Analogies

Here is a fun way of imagining the human body. The way I describe it to my patients is that your joints, like your elbow or the knee, can be seen as the middle child of the arm and leg, respectively.

They are often blamed for everything, but rarely at fault. For elbow pain, the culprits are frequently your mid back or neck, shoulder, or wrist. For knee pain, the real cause is usually due to your lower back, hip, or ankle.

How is this so? To explain this simply, let’s use the analogy of an assigned group project in high school. If you think back to that experience, there undoubtedly was that one kid that didn’t do their part in the project. When that person fails to contribute and carry out their assigned task, everyone else has to work harder to compensate.

The rest of the group becomes aggravated, and as a result they get exhausted. Inevitably, there will be that one frustrated person in the group that throws up their hands and says, “That’s it! I’m done! This was your job and I am tired of doing the work for you!”

In the case of the ACL tear, your hip was the slacker. Your knee was the kid trying to pick up the slack. Your knee ended up being overworked, throwing up their arms exclaiming their exhaustion and frustration. In the real world, this would translated to most people as pain.

The Benefits of Acupuncture for Sports Injuries

The body requires symmetry, not just structurally, but also with its movements. Asymmetrical movements with your body can lead to injury. Your asymmetrical movements may have started early on in life when you were a baby learning to crawl or roll. Maybe you learned to roll on only one side. Or maybe when you were learning to crawl you had a wider stride on one side than the other.

Even skipping over laying on your belly as a baby can have an effect on how you move later on in life! It can be quite difficult for a doctor to answer when your chronic problems actually started.

So how can acupuncture help if your injury stems from an activity that is as old as you are?

Acupuncture is an extremely effective treatment for acute and chronic issues. For acute injuries, the needles will be inserted at the local site of injury to help flush it with fresh blood to heal it. There is also the use of external herbs which are applied to the skin rather than taken orally, helping in the relaxation or strengthening of the tissue.

As for the chronic underlying issue, this would require a thorough assessment and review of previous injuries. How you walk, how you squat, your usual posture, etc. all play a role in how chronic issues can arise.

If you have an ACL tear, ankle sprain, or any injury for that matter, it is imperative to have a medical specialist assess your lower back, hip, knee, ankle, and foot.

The acupuncture needles will be placed accordingly on your body, herbs will be used if prescribed, and then there is always the option of cupping, guasha, and tui na if needed. These are all tools that an acupuncturist can use to increase blood flow and create more mobility in tissues and joints.

A sports injury should never be ignored. At Physio Logic, we believe that an injury should never be a reason to stop you from doing something you love. Whether it be playing sports, dancing, gardening, or any other hobby that requires physical movement, we want you to be able to pursue your happiness. Take the time to get treated. Train for rehabilitative purposes so you can be an even stronger athlete than you were before your injury.


Dr. Robert and Julie Graham work in collaboration with Dr. Allison Heffron at Physio Logic. Contact us to find out how we bring together various medical professionals in one integrative center to get you to your best health!