As a climber you are often pushing yourself to the limit or beyond. In fact, most climbing injuries do not result from accidents but from overuse. Often, the damage to your body accumulates over time until you feel enough pain to slow down or avoid certain movements or positions. Our bodies are amazingly complex organisms, constantly in flux and affected by many factors such as food, sleep and your mental state, as well as by toxicants and radiation. Our bodies are also incredibly intelligent and capable of compensating for many abuses.
In my experience, climbers benefit from a three-pronged approach in order to enjoy a long and productive climbing career: Developing and implementing a thoughtful, well-rounded and flexible training strategy (something I will address more thoroughly in an upcoming post); making consistently smart lifestyle choices, including healthy nutrition, sufficient rest and positive stress management; and having a holistic, proactive healthcare strategy to heal and prevent injuries.
I often hear from climbers, especially those with shoulder injuries, who are looking for a specialist to fix their problems. Many times, they have already worked with physical therapists, but the pain keeps flaring up and full function is not restored. Surgical intervention is often not the magic cure they had hoped for. So, what can acupuncture do for these climbers?
Targeted acupuncture can relieve pain, sometimes immediately, more often over the course of several treatment sessions. It has been shown to mediate pain perception, probably by stimulating the body’s own production of endorphins. In the hands of a specially trained acupuncturist it can also resolve dysfunction in soft tissues (muscles, tendons & ligaments) through the treatment of motor and trigger points. This often results in improved balance between agonist and antagonist muscle groups, allowing your body to gradually return to a more functional posture. Acupuncture also helps reduce inflammation and make your immune system more resilient.
When I work with athletes, I treat them with acupuncture, electrical stimulation, heat therapy and manual techniques in my clinic, but I also teach them self-care techniques they can implement at home to support their healing. One important strategy is moxibustion, which is the traditional “partner” modality of acupuncture and widely used in China. Mugwort in the shape of cigars or as a loose moxa wool is burned near specific acupuncture points and projects a healing warmth deep into the tissue. I find this particularly helpful with old, recalcitrant tendon and ligament injuries and in energetically depleted patients.
The long tradition of martial arts practice in China has also provided us with a treasure trove of useful treatment strategies to heal sports injuries. In addition to tuina (manual therapy) and qigong (qi cultivation), internal and external herbal applications are powerful healing tools. Many of the formerly secret shao lin formulas are now known to practitioners of Chinese sports medicine. They go beyond the effects of NSAIDs by not only reducing pain but also promoting circulation and tissue healing. Some can be applied as poultices or liniments, others can be taken internally as an herbal decoction.
Last but not least, many top athletes, including professional mountain guide and Everest climber Melissa Arnot, have acknowledged that regular preventive acupuncture has helped them keep their edge in the mountains. Being strong and healthy before you go out is certainly preferable to trying to catch up with preventable health issues once you’re back. Your performance will tell.
© 2017 Christiane Siebert