How Acupuncture Helps Runners

Acupuncture can help runners treat injuries and recover quicker. Also, it addresses the whole person, reducing both physical and mental stress to improve your health.

Running is great and has a host of benefits like reducing stress and boosting your energy. Right now, many of my patients are preparing for the New York Marathon which is coming up in only a few days! But it also comes with a lot of potential injuries including runners’ knee, hamstring injuries, back pain, Achilles tendonitis, and others. 

Acupuncture is an ancient practice that has been used to treat injuries for more than 3,000 years. It can help athletes with a range of problems, including reducing pain and stress, boosting their immune system, and treatment of many common injuries. It can even boost performance and recovery.

My therapies can also be integrated into your current care program alongside physical therapy and massage. 

In this article, I will share how acupuncture helps runners reduce pain and speed recovery, as well as treat runners’ common complaints, such as runners’ knee, hamstring injuries, back pain, and Achilles Tendonitis.  I’ll also discuss therapies such as cupping to help you meet your goals. 

Sammy at marathon
Sammy, my son, is dancing and practicing his running at the New York City Marathon

Reduces pain

Acupuncture improves the body’s ability to produce painkilling chemicals in the body.  It can also improve an athlete’s performance by suppressing the production of stress-related hormones. Another benefit is that it relieves stress. Stress can cause many negative effects and can compromise performance.

Acupuncture works by correcting underlying imbalances in the body. One main idea is that Qi, the energy of the body, is necessary for daily living and flows through channels that connect the body. Stress and injury can cause the qi to slow down and become stuck. This is known as stagnation, which can lead to pain. Restoring the circulation of qi stops the pain and heals the body. 

Relaxes muscles

Trigger points form when small groups of muscle fibers are irritated and tightened. These muscle knots can be painful and inhibit flexibility causing problems for runners. Trigger points can also pull on the muscles and tendons causing referred pain. 

Acupuncture breaks up the trigger point which relaxes the muscle and improves their range of motion. This type of treatment focuses on releasing these muscle knots, restoring muscle length and reducing pain. It is also effective for reducing general muscle tension, which affects joint mobility. Studies have shown that acupuncture also promotes a healthy balance of muscles, which reduces stress on ligaments and tendons. This reduces the risk of injuries and increases energy levels.

acupuncture chart side

Reduces inflammation and speeds healing

Acupuncture points lie on channels on the body through which Qi, the body’s energy, flows

The treatment helps balance the body’s self-healing processes, reduces inflammation, and improves circulation. It also affects inflammatory processes by activating the nervous system. This stimulates the production of hormones by noradrenergic neurons, which are believed to contribute to the body’s response to inflammation. 

Research shows that acupuncture induces nitric oxide-mediated vasodilatation. This increases local blood flow, and triggers a release of natural pain relievers.

It also improves immune function and sleep, which help runners get the most out of their training season and helps to calm the mind.

Helps You Recover from Injuries Faster

Acupuncture helps runners overcome a variety of running injuries including a strained hamstring, a runner’s knee, or tendonitis. Besides addressing the symptoms, it can help prevent recurring injuries by increasing blood flow, reducing inflammation, and relaxing muscles, which allows the body to rest and recover.

The inflammation from an injury, which is reflected as swelling, redness, and heat in a joint, is considered heat and stagnation in acupuncture. Cooling techniques are used to reduce inflammation and promote circulation. 

Runners Knee

Runner’s knee is a dull sensation around the knee and it may be tender to the touch. It may cause pain when sitting or running. You also may hear the clicking, grinding, and rubbing sound of your kneecap. Acupuncture can help by loosening the tight muscles around the knee joint, reducing inflammation, and promote blood circulation. 

One study showed that acupuncture reduces knee pain in runners. This study used a method of treating only one limb of each athlete. Compared to the opposite limb, the acupuncture-treated limbs had an average strength increase of 34%. Amazingly, limbs showed an increase in motor units used to recruit for the three muscles.

man running

Achilles Tendonitis

Acupuncture is an excellent treatment option for Achilles tendinopathy. It can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation in the Achilles tendon to heal and improve flexibility. Our goal will be to prevent the formation of tight scar tissue, which can lead to further pain and injury. It is a safe and effective way to treat Achilles tendinopathy. 

Plantar Fasciitis

Acupuncture can treat plantar fasciitis. Researchers have found that acupuncture is effective for treating plantar fasciitis in runners. 

One reason it is effective for treating plantar fasciitis is because it encourages the body to produce natural opioids, which act as painkillers. These substances relieve pain and promote a healthy immune system. In treatment, I will focus on relieving tension in the calves, tendons, and plantar fascia with a combination of techniques including electroacupuncture, tui na, cupping, and gua sha.

Hamstring Injuries

A hamstring injury is a common problem among runners. Whether you’re an athlete or a casual participant of sports, a hamstring injury can seriously impact your performance. Painful running or walking can severely limit your activities. 

Acupuncture for hamstring injuries is effective for relieving pain, increasing circulation and reducing inflammation. Acupuncture for hamstring injuries focuses on acupuncture points on the hamstrings and along the meridians that travel to the muscle group. The hamstring is the middle muscle of the back thigh.

Acupuncture for hamstring injuries is a proven treatment option that can speed up the healing process. 

side runner

Back Pain

Many research studies and happy patients can attest to acupuncture’s positive effect on treating back pain. I have had many patients who have recovered from back pain associated with running. We will focus on relaxing the back muscles, and improving circulation which allows the body to heal itself. Proper exercises and stretching are also important for maintaining a healthy back.

There are several trials that have shown that it is an effective treatment for back pain, and there are minimal side effects. For example, one study conducted in 2012 involved 20,000 patients suffering from chronic pain who received acupuncture.  Researchers found that people treated with authentic acupuncture experienced a 50 percent reduction in chronic pain. 

IT Band Syndrome

IT Band Syndrome is a common affliction for runners. The pain occurs when the iliotibial band (ITB) stretches narrowly near the knee. The rubbing between the band and bone can lead to inflammation. The syndrome can occur for runners of all levels and affects both men and women.

While conventional treatments largely target the symptoms, our treatments address the cause of the pain. One of the ways acupuncture works is by stimulating the cells of the fascia, the body’s connective tissue. The ITB is a large bank of fascia. Treatment in this area of the body stimulates the stretching and repair of the connective tissue of the ITB.

How Cupping Can Help Runners


Cupping helps to increase circulation, reduce inflammation, and relax muscles

Cupping is an ancient Chinese medicine technique that involves placing depressurized glass or plastic cups on the skin. The suction created by the glass cups is said to increase blood flow and Qi. 

Cupping has been used by for inflammation, neck pain, back pain, chest congestion, and other problems. Research shows that cupping can boost your immune system, improve blood flow, and reduce pain and inflammation. 

Cupping also boosts cell repair. This helps the body produce new blood vessels and connective tissues. The treatment can also help improve fatigue symptoms. Runners can also benefit from cupping as it reduces the appearance of scar tissue in the affected area.

We will assess you individual needs and use cupping at the same time as acupuncture or after the acupuncture session. These cups may be stationary or may be gently moved over your skin, creating a massage-like effect. Afterwards you will likely have the cup bruises which are painless but last for 1-2 weeks. 

Helps the body heal and promotes faster recovery

Acupuncture helps runners in many ways to reduce pain and inflammation as well as promote circulation. This can help treat injuries and prevent future ones. 

Our treatment will stimulate specific muscle fibers in order to relax tight muscles. Additionally, it increases blood flow to damaged and stressed muscles. This can help prevent injuries and restore correct running form. It also improves the nerves in the body, which help regulate muscle function and improve communication between the body and brain. Another benefit is that it can strengthen the immune system helping to keep you healthy throughout your training.

Joseph Alban

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.

Joseph Alban is a Doctor of Acupuncture, New York Licensed Acupuncturist, and NCCAOM Board Certified Herbalist providing the highest quality Acupuncture and Chinese medicine care tailored to your needs.

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