Acupuncture For Sports Injuries | Glasgow
About sports injuries
Sports injuries are common, and vary from minor toe injuries to major complex trauma. Usually, only soft tissue is damaged, but there can also be fracturing of bone. Soft tissue injuries include sprains, strains and bruising. A sprain is a partial or complete rupture of a ligament, a strain is a partial tear of muscles and a bruise is a rupture of tissue leading to a haematoma. Any soft-tissue injury can lead to a tenderness, swelling, haematoma, scarring, fibrosis andloss of function.
Most commonly, sports injuries affect the lower limb, particularly the ankle (e.g. Achilles tendinopathy, sprains) and knee (e.g. patellofemoral pain syndrome, ligament injuries).(Murray 2004) Other common sporting injuries include those of the shoulder (e.g. dislocations, acromioclavicular joint injuries, rotator cuff injuries); elbow (e.g. tennis, golfer’s); wrist (e.g. strains, sprains, breaks); leg (e.g. shin splints, stress fractures, hamstring injuries); foot (e.g. plantar fasciitis); groin (strain); and back (e.g. acute lumbar sprain).(Andres 2008; Arthritis Research Campaign 2004; Jarvninen 2000, McGriff-Lee 2003; Mitchell 2005; Wolfe 2001) Injuries can be caused by trauma as a result of a sudden impact or awkward movement, or can develop over time often due to continual use of the same joints or muscle groups. Contributing factors can be not warming, using inadequate equipment or training too hard for current level of fitness.
The aims of therapy are to relieve pain, control inflammation, hasten resolution of a haematoma, and accelerate repair. Also, there should be restoration of function and
recovery of muscle power. Conventional approaches to sports injuries include RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation), anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics, immobilisation, corticosteroid injections, physiotherapy and surgery.
Andres BM, Murrell GA. Treatment of tendinopathy: what works, what does not, and what is on the horizon. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research 2008; 466: 1539-54.
Arthritis Research Campaign, 2004. Plantar fasciitis. Information and exercise sheet (H02). [online].
Jarvinen TA et al. Muscle strain injuries. Current Opinion in Rheumatology 2000; 12: 155-61.
McGriff-Lee N. Management of acute soft tissue injuries. Journal of Pharmacy Practice 2003; 16: 51-8.
Mitchell C et al. Shoulder pain: diagnosis and management in primary care. BMJ 2005; 331: 1124-8.
Murray IR et al. How evidence based is the management of two common sports injuries in a sports injury clinic? Br J
Sports Med 2005; 39: 912-6.
Wolfe MW et al. (2001) Management of ankle sprains. American Family Physician 2001; 63: 93-104.
How acupuncture can help
One systematic review found strong evidence suggesting that acupuncture is effective in the short-term relief of lateral epicondyle pain (Trinh 2004). This updated
an earlier review on the same subject where there was insufficient evidence to either support or refute the use of acupuncture (Green 2002). The only other systematic
review on sports injuries found that, based on the results of trials exhibiting a sufficient level of quality, treatments that were effective in decreasing pain and
improving function in patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome were acupuncture, quadriceps strengthening, and the use of a resistive brace (Bizzini 2003). There is
also positive evidence from individual randomised controlled trials, showing that: acupuncture reduced pain in patients with plantar fasciitis (Zhang 2001); electroacupuncture had better therapeutic effects than medication, both in the short and long term, in patients with acute lumbar strain (Yao-chi 2007); acupuncture plus warmed needle relieved the pain of chondromalacia patella (Qui 2006); acupuncture reduced NSAID intake and relieved pain in patients with shin splints (Callison 2002); acupuncture reduced the pain of patellofemoral pain syndromes (Jensen 1999); acupuncture was effective for soft tissue disease (Yuan 1989).
Altogether, there is a paucity of controlled trials of acupuncture for sports injuries, so we also refer to some of the uncontrolled studies. Case series suggest acupuncture
might be helpful in the treatment of shoulder injuries (Osborne 2010), medial collateral ligament injuries of the knee (Yan 2008) and plantar fasciitis (Tillu 1998),
but these results need confirming.(See Table below). Other Factsheets that relate to sports injuries include: Acupuncture and Back Pain;
Acupuncture and Frozen Shoulder; and Acupuncture and Headache. In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the
release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and
emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as
well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety (Wu 1999).
Acupuncture may help relieve symptoms of sports injuries, such as pain and inflammation by:
stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors (e.g. neuropeptide Y, serotonin), and
changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Han 2004, Zhao 2008, Zhou 2008, Lee 2009, Cheng 2009);
delivering analgesia via alpha-adrenoceptor mechanisms (Koo 2008);
increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties (Goldman 2010);
• modulating the limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network (Hui 2009);
• reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003);
• improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling.
About traditional acupuncture
Acupuncture is a tried and tested system of traditional medicine, which has been used in China and other eastern cultures for thousands of years to restore, promote
and maintain good health. Its benefits are now widely acknowledged all over the world and in the past decade traditional acupuncture has begun to feature more
prominently in mainstream healthcare in the UK. In conjunction with needling, the practitioner may use techniques such as moxibustion, cupping, massage or electroacupuncture. They may also suggest dietary or lifestyle changes.
Traditional acupuncture takes a holistic approach to health and regards illness as a sign that the body is out of balance. The exact pattern and degree of imbalance is
unique to each individual. The traditional acupuncturist’s skill lies in identifying the precise nature of the underlying disharmony and selecting the most effective
treatment. The choice of acupuncture points will be specific to each patient’s needs.Traditional acupuncture can also be used as a preventive measure to strengthen the
constitution and promote general well-being. An increasing weight of evidence from Western scientific research (see overleaf) is demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating a wide variety of conditions. From a biomedical viewpoint, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system, influencing the production of the body’s communication substances - hormones and neurotransmitters. The resulting biochemical changes activate the body's self-regulating homeostatic systems, stimulating its natural healing abilities and promoting physical and emotional well-being.
About the British Acupuncture Council
With over 3000 members, the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is the UK’s largest professional body for traditional acupuncturists. Membership of the BAcC guarantees
excellence in training, safe practice and professional conduct. To find a qualified traditional acupuncturist, contact the BAcC on 020 8735 0400 or visit
Acupuncture For Sports Injuries
|Trinh KV et al. Acupuncture for the
alleviation of lateral epicondyle pain:
a systematic review. Rheumatology
2004; 43: 1085-90.
|A systematic review that evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture as a
treatment for lateral epicondylitis. Six randomised controlled trials (4 shamcontrolled) were included. All the studies suggested that acupuncture was
effective in the short-term relief of lateral epicondyle pain. Five of six studies
indicated that acupuncture treatment was more effective compared to a
control treatment. The reviewers concluded that there was strong evidence
suggesting that acupuncture is effective in the short-term relief of lateral
|Bizzini M et al. Systematic review of
the quality of randomized controlled
trials for patellofemoral pain
syndrome. Journal of Orthopaedic
and Sports Physical Therapy 2003;
|A systematic review of published randomised controlled trials that assessed
non-operative treatments for patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). The
reviewers found that, based on the results of trials exhibiting a sufficient
level of quality, treatments that were effective in decreasing pain and
improving function in patients with PFPS were acupuncture, quadriceps
strengthening, and the use of a resistive brace.
|Green S et al. Acupuncture for lateral
elbow pain. Cochrane Database of
Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 1.
Art. No.: CD003527. DOI:
|A systematic review that included four small randomised controlled trials.
One trial found that needle acupuncture resulted in relief of pain for
significantly longer than placebo and was more likely to result in a 50% or
greater reduction in pain after 1 treatment (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.16 to 0.69). A
second trial demonstrated needle acupuncture to be more likely to result in
overall participant reported improvement than placebo in the short term (RR
= 0.09, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.64). No significant differences were found in the
longer term (after 3 or 12 months). A third trial of laser acupuncture versus
placebo demonstrated no differences between laser acupuncture and
placebo with respect to overall benefit. A fourth trial found no difference
between Vitamin B12 injection plus acupuncture, and Vitamin B12 injection
alone. The reviewers concluded that there is insufficient evidence to either
support or refute the use of acupuncture (either needle or laser) in the
treatment of lateral elbow pain, but that needle acupuncture is of short term
benefit with respect to pain.
|Zhang SP et al. Acupuncture
treatment for plantar fasciitis: A
randomized controlled trial with six
months follow-up. Evidence-based
Complementary and Alternative
Medicine 2011: 154108.
|A randomised controlled trial that assessed the efficacy and specificity of
acupuncture treatment for plantar fasciitis in 53 patients. The treatment
group received needling at the acupoint PC 7, which is purported to have a
specific effect for heel pain. The control group received needling at the
acupoint LI 4, which has analgesic properties. Significant differences in
reduction in pain scores, favouring the treatment group, were seen at 1
month for morning pain (22.6 vs. 12.0), overall pain (20.3 vs. 9.5) and
pressure pain threshold (145.5 vs. -15.5). The researchers concluded that
the results showed that acupuncture can provide pain relief to patient with
plantar fasciitis, and that PC 7 is a relatively specific acupoint for heel pain.
|Yao-chi W et al. Observation on
short-term and long-term therapeutic
effects of electroacupuncture at Houxi
(SI 3) on acute lumbar sprain.
Chinese acupuncture & moxibustion
2007; 27: 3-5.
|A randomised controlled study that compared the therapeutic effects of
electroacupuncture (EA) at the acupoint SI 3 with medicine on acute lumbarsprain in 300 patients. Their therapeutic effects were evaluated after
treatment for 7 days and 1 month respectively. In the short-term, the
effective rate was 97.3% in the EA group and 89.2% in the medication
group (p<0. 01). In the long-term, the effective rate was 99.3% in the EA
group and 93.2% in the medication group (p<0. 01). The researchers
concluded that both the short-term and the long-term therapeutic effects of
electroacupuncture at the acupoint SI 3 on acute lumbar sprain are better
than those of medication.
|Qiu L et al. Combined therapy of
acupuncture with warmed needle and
muscle strength training in the
treatment of 34 chondromalacia
patellae patients: Randomized
controlled observation on curative
effect. Chinese Journal of Clinical
Rehabilitation 2006; 10: 170-1.
|A randomised controlled trial that looked at the effect of acupuncture with
warmed needle in 64 patients with chondromalacia patellae compared with
oral NSAIDs (meloxicam). After treatment, the pain scores of the two groups
were significantly decreased (p<0.05 and 0.01, respectively); Compared
with the control group, pain decreased significantly more in the acupuncture
group (p<0.05). The total efficacy in the acupuncture group was significantly
higher than that of the control group (p<0.01). The researchers concluded
that, combined with muscle strength training, both acupuncture with warmed
needle and oral meloxicam can relieve pain in patients with chondromalacia
patellae, but that acupuncture with warmed needle is better at relieving pain
and improving curative efficacy.
|Callison M. Clinical study:
Acupuncture & tibial stress syndrome
(Shin splints). Journal of Chinese
Medicine 2002; 70: 24-7.
|A controlled trial that compared acupuncture with sports medicine and a
combination of the two in 40 athletes with tibial stress syndrome (shin
splints). Participants answered questions concerning intensity and duration
of pain during and between activities, in addition to amount of NSAIDs
taken. Athletes in the acupuncture alone and the acupuncture plus sports
medicine groups experienced the most pain relief, were least hindered by
pain during sporting and non-sporting activities, and felt overall that the
treatments were more effective than those reporting in the sports medicine
alone group. The perception of pain, pain relief, and effectiveness was not
significantly improved for athletes in the sports medicine alone Group.
Athletes in the acupuncture alone and acupuncture plus sports medicine
group who were taking NSAIDS took significantly fewer doses during the
course of the study than athletes in the sports medicine only group.
|Jensen R et al. Acupuncture
treatment of patellofemoral pain
syndrome. Journal of Alternative &
Complementary Medicine 1999; 5:
|A randomised controlled trial that evaluated the effect of acupuncture
treatment compared to no treatment in 75 patients with patellofemoral pain
syndrome. At 12 months, there was a significant difference in favour of
acupuncture in the Cincinnati Knee Rating System (CKRS) score (75.2
vs.61.7 with no treatment, p=0.005). The Number Necessary to Treat (NNT)
to cure one patient was 3.0 for the CKRS pain subscale and NNT = 3.7 for
the CKRS function subscale. The researchers concluded that acupuncture
may be an alternative treatment for patellofemoral pain syndromes.
|Yuan CX et al. Observations on
clinical therapeutic effect in treating
soft tissue injuries by acupuncture,
with pain threshold and
electromyography as parameters. J
Tradit Chin Med 1989; 9: 40-4.
|A controlled study that assessed the clinical effect of acupuncture in the
treatment of soft tissue injuries in 120 patients. Among the 100 patients in
the acupuncture treatment group, 300 observations were made; among the
20 controls there were 60 observations. The effective rate in the
acupuncture treatment group was 85.00% compared to 41.67% in the
control group (p<0.01). There was very significant difference (p< 0.01) in the
degree of pressed pain on the patient's tender spot before and after
acupuncture treatment. The researchers concluded that acupuncture
treatment is effective for soft tissue disease.
|Osborne NJ, Gatt IT. Management of
shoulder injuries using dry needling in
elite volleyball players. Acupuncture
in medicine 2010; 28: 42-5.
|Four case reports that described the short-term benefits of dry needling in
shoulder injuries in international female volleyball athletes during a monthlong intense competitive phase, using both replicable subjective and
objective measures. Dry needling of scapulohumeral muscles was carried
out. Range of movement, strength and pain were assessed before and after
treatment, with a functional assessment of pain immediately after playing
and overhead activity, using the short form McGill Pain Questionnaire. All
scores were improved post-treatment and athletes were able to continue
overhead activities. The researchers concluded that these cases support
the use of dry needling in elite athletes during a competitive phase with
short-term pain relief and improved function in shoulder injuries. They
suggested it may help maintain rotator cuff balance and strength, reducing
further pain and injury.
|Yan XN, Ren CX. Cause and
treatment of sports injury in knee joint
medial collateral ligament. Journal of
Clinical Rehabilitative Tissue
Engineering Research 2008; 12:
|A case series comprising 30 female football players with injury of the medial
collateral ligament of the knee, who were given electroacupuncture,
manipulation and rehabilitation training. Recovery was rapid in 23.33%
players and, in all, 40% players completely recovered and 53.33% partly
recovered. The researchers concluded that the combination of
electroacupuncture, manipulation and rehabilitation training is effective in
treating the medial collateral ligament injuries.
|Tillu A, Gupta S. Effect of
acupuncture treatment on heel pain
due to plantar fasciitis. Acupuncture
in Medicine 1998; 16: 66-8.
|A case series of 18 patients attending an orthopaedic outpatient clinic with a
year or more's history of heel pain due to plantar fasciitis. All had had
conservative treatment of physiotherapy and shoe-support without
significant pain relief before acupuncture was offered, and thus acted as
their own controls for the purposes of the study. The Visual Analogue Score
(VAS) data obtained after 4 and 6 weeks of acupuncture treatment showed
a significant improvement compared to the VAS before acupuncture
(p<0.0009 and p<0.0001, respectively). The researchers concluded that the
results demonstrated that acupuncture is effective in treating patients with
chronic heel pain due to plantar fasciitis.
|Research on mechanisms for acupuncture|
|Goldman N et al. Adenosine A1
receptors mediate local antinociceptive effects of acupuncture.
Nat Neurosci 2010 May 30. [Epub
ahead of print]
|A study that found the neuromodulator adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties, was released during acupuncture in mice, and that
its anti-nociceptive actions required adenosine A1 receptor expression.
Direct injection of an adenosine A1 receptor agonist replicated the analgesic
effect of acupuncture. Inhibition of enzymes involved in adenosine
degradation potentiated the acupuncture-elicited increase in adenosine, as
well as its anti-nociceptive effect. The r concluded that their observations
indicate that adenosine mediates the effects of acupuncture and that
interfering with adenosine metabolism may prolong the clinical benefit of
|Hui K.K.-S. The salient characteristics
of the central effects of acupuncture
needling: limbic-paralimbicneocortical network modulation.
Human Brain Mapping 2009; 30:
|A study that assessed the results of fMRI on 10 healthy adults during
manual acupuncture at 3 acupuncture points and a sham point on the
dorsum of the foot. Although certain differences were seen between real
and sham points, the hemodynamic and psychophysical responses were
generally similar for all 4 points. Acupuncture produced extensive
deactivation of the limbic-paralimbic-neocortical system. Clusters of
deactivated regions were seen in the medial prefrontal cortex, the temporal
lobe and the posterior medial cortex. The sensorimotor cortices, thalamus
and occasional paralimbic structures such as the insula and anterior middle
cingulate cortex showed activation. The researchers concluded that their
results provided additional evidence that acupuncture modulates the limbicparalimbic-neocortical network. They hypothesised that acupuncture may
mediate its analgesic, anti-anxiety, and other therapeutic effects via this
intrinsic neural circuit that plays a central role in the affective and cognitive
dimensions of pain.
|Cheng CH et al. Endogenous Opiates
in the Nucleus Tractus Solitarius
Sleep Activities in Rats. Evid Based
Complement Alternat Med 2009 Sep
3. [Epub ahead of print]
|An animal study that investigated the involvement of the nucleus tractus
soliatarius opioidergic system in electroacupuncture-induced alterations in
sleep, the findings of which suggested that mechanisms of sleep
enhancement may be mediated, in part, by cholinergic activation,
stimulation of the opiodergic neurons to increase the concentrations of betaendorphin and the involvement of the µ-opioid receptors.
|Lee B et al. Effects of acupuncture on
depression-like behavior and
expression of neuropeptide Y in the
rats. Neuroscience Letters 2009; 453:
|In animal studies, acupuncture has been found to significantly reduce
anxiety-like behaviour, and increase brain levels of neuropeptide Y, the
brain levels of which appear to correlate with reported anxiety.
|Komori M et al. Microcirculatory
responses to acupuncture stimulation
and phototherapy. Anesth Analg
2009; 108: 635-40.
|Experimental study on rabbits in which acupuncture stimulation was directly
observed to increase diameter and blood flow velocity of peripheral
arterioles, enhancing local microcirculation.
|Koo ST et al. Electroacupunctureinduced analgesia in a rat model of
ankle sprain pain is mediated by
spinal alpha-adrenoceptors. Embase
Pain 2008; 135: 11-9.
|An animal study that investigated the underlying mechanism of
electroacupuncture (EA) analgesia, and the effects of various antagonists
on known endogenous analgesic systems in a rat model of ankle sprain. EA
significantly improved the weight-bearing capacity of the affected hind limb
for 2 hours, suggesting an analgesic effect. The alpha-adrenoceptor
antagonist phentolamine completely blocked the EA-induced analgesia,
whereas naloxone failed to block the effect. Further experiments showed
that intrathecal administration of yohimbine, an alpha2-adrenergic
antagonist, reduced the EA-induced analgesia in a dose-dependent
manner, whereas terazosin, an alpha1-adrenergic antagonist, did not
produce any effect. The researchers concluded that the results suggest EAinduced analgesia is mediated by alpha-adrenoceptor mechanisms and, at
least in part, mediated by spinal alpha2-adrenoceptor mechanisms.
|Zhao ZQ. Neural mechanism
underlying acupuncture analgesia.
Prog Neurobiol 2008; 85: 355-75.
|Review article that discusses the various peripheral and central nervous
system components of acupuncture anaesthesia in detail.
|Zhou Q et al. The effect of electroacupuncture on the imbalance
neurotransmitters and GABA in the
CNS of rats with chronic emotional
stress-induced anxiety. Int J Clin
Acupunct 2008 ;17: 79-84.
|A study of the regulatory effect of electro-acupuncture on the imbalance
between monoamine neurotransmitters and GABA in the central nervous
system of rats with chronic emotional stress-induced anxiety. The levels of
serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine fell significantly, while GABA levels
were significantly higher in the rats given acupuncture (P<0.05, or P<0.0).
The researchers concluded that the anti-anxiety effect of electroacupuncture may relate to its regulation of the imbalance of
|Kavoussi B, Ross BE. The
neuroimmune basis of antiinflammatory acupuncture. Integr
Cancer Ther 2007; 6: 251-7.
|Review article that suggests the anti-inflammatory actions of traditional and
electro-acupuncture are mediated by efferent vagus nerve activation and
inflammatory macrophage deactivation.
|Han JS. Acupuncture and
endorphins. Neurosci Lett 2004; 361:
|A literature review of studies relating to the release of endorphins by
|Zijlstra FJ et al. Anti-inflammatory
actions of acupuncture. Mediators
Inflamm 2003; 12: 59-69.
|An article that suggests a hypothesis for anti-inflammatory action of
acupuncture: Insertion of acupuncture needles initially stimulates production
of beta-endorphins, CGRP and substance P, leading to further stimulation of
cytokines and NO. While high levels of CGRP have been shown to be proinflammatory, CGRP in low concentrations exerts potent anti-inflammatory
actions. Therefore, a frequently applied 'low-dose' treatment of acupuncture
could provoke a sustained release of CGRP with anti-inflammatory activity,
without stimulation of pro-inflammatory cells.
|Wu MT et al. Central nervous
pathway for acupuncture stimulation:
localization of processing with
functional MR imaging of the brain--
preliminary experience. Radiology
1999 ; 212: 133-41.
|An experimental study using MRI to characterise the central nervous system
pathway for acupuncture stimulation, which found that acupuncture
activates structures of descending antinocioceptive pathway and
deactivates areas mediating pain modulation.
|Pomeranz B. Scientific basis of
acupuncture. In: Stux G, Pomeranz
B, eds. Acupuncture Textbook and
Atlas. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag;
Needle activation of A delta and C afferent nerve fibres in muscle sends
signals to the spinal cord, where dynorphin and enkephalins are released.
Afferent pathways continue to the midbrain, triggering excitatory and
inhibitory mediators in spinal cord. Ensuing release of serotonin and
norepinephrine onto the spinal cord leads to pain transmission being
inhibited both pre- and postsynaptically in the spinothalamic tract. Finally,
these signals reach the hypothalamus and pituitary, triggering release of
adrenocorticotropic hormones and beta-endorphin.
Terms and conditions
The use of this fact sheet is for the use of British Acupuncture Council members and is subject to the strict conditions imposed by the British Acupuncture Council details of which can be found in the members area of its’ website www.acupuncture.org.uk.
For more information about acupuncture and how it can help with sports injuries from minor toe injuries to major complex trauma, contact Elaine Collins at 0141 585 7904 or fill in our Contact form, and we will get back to you.