Acupuncture and certain herbal remedies are the best known components of the broader Chinese healing therapies known as traditional Chinese medicines (TCM). For many years, the established medical communities in the United States scorned TCM practices as a pseudoscience, and TCM was not recognized as a legitimate branch of American medical practice. Traditional Chinese medicines have a long history; the earliest medical monograph concerning TCM was compiled approximately 2,500 years ago.
The North American acceptance of the acupuncture procedure occurred essentially by default, when afflicted persons, often those who suffered chronic pain from a muscle or back injury, sought out TCM treatments as a last resort to conventional medicine and prescribed pain medications. The widespread use of TCM techniques in Europe, especially in the 1970s and 1980s in the sports medicine communities of the former Eastern bloc nations, hastened a more objective consideration of TCM practices in American athletic therapy. Today, TCM has established itself as an entirely reputable, if not yet entirely mainstream, aspect of American sports medicine.
Acupuncture involves the introduction of specialized needles into the skin at predetermined pressure points. The needles are constructed of very thin steel, of varying sizes. Each pressure point is a part of a larger, interconnected system of muscular and skin channels, which act as energy pathways, or meridians, throughout the body. Acupuncture is premised on the belief that the introduction of the needles to provide pressure at the appropriate points will enhance the release of the body's natural energy, the metaphysical energy force known as qi (or chi), which in turn assists in the restoration of proper blood flow, and a corresponding reduction in pain and increased health and recovery at the injured area. In essence, the therapy is designed to encourage the body to release its own natural recuperative powers. The needles are directed into the pressure point to a depth of approximately 1 in (2.5 cm). In a typical treatment, the needles will remain in position for between 20 and 40 minutes. Omoxibustion is a variant of the acupuncture application, in which heat is applied to the acupuncture points for the same purpose.
Acupuncture places emphasis upon the optimal flow of blood and bodily fluids; improved blood flow to the injury is a fundamental purpose of acupuncture. Further, acupuncture stresses the relationship between types of injuries to a particular organ that is said to govern the injured body part in question. For example, tendon injuries are related to liver function, as the liver is the organ responsible for blood production. Muscular damage is related to the spleen, as the spleen is the organ involved in the transport of nutrients in the body. Bone damage is assessed in relation to the kidneys.
Athletic injuries were a useful proving ground in the American context for the efficacy of acupuncture. Athletes found that common sports injuries, such as contusions (bruising), overuse injuries such as lateral epicondilytis (known as tennis elbow), and muscle sprains, when treated through acupuncture, were often resolved more quickly than through conventional applications.
The application of Chinese herbal remedies has the same underlying principle as that of acupuncture. The selection and preparation of these Chinese mixtures is directed at the whole body, as opposed to the
Ma huang was developed by Chinese practitioners as a means of increasing the energy of a subject; athletes took ma huang as it was a stimulant, a natural form of ephedra. Ephedra, and its derivative ephedrine, are banned substances in international athletics and many team sports. Ginseng was reputed to have invigorating qualities, and it is widely employed as an additive with other herbal mixtures, often taken as a tea.
Chinese herbal remedies are prescribed in a number of forms. Herbal teas are a common practice, as the boiling of water and the mixing of the herb tends to concentrate its healing effect. Herbs are also mixed in desired combinations to be ingested in powder, extract, and tablet forms. Certain herbs acquired a reputation in the treatment of the injuries sustained in the practice of martial arts; these substances are mixed in a poultice and applied to the injured area. Chinese herbal remedies are available from both specialized practitioners, as well as through a multitude of both conventional pharmacies and Internet distribution.