Many athletes use the ancient Chinese therapy to treat their most annoying ailments.

The sight of needles can make anyone cringe, but it may be worth a shot to help alleviate an injury.

Marathoner Deena Kastor is among a handful of elite athletes that use acupuncture to treat injuries and reduce the pain and inflammation associated with it. Studies suggest the ancient Chinese therapy can increase circulation and range of motion and accelerate healing time due to its ability to balance the neurological and cardiovascular systems.

How Does It Work?

Patients first fill out a questionnaire about their history. The acupuncturist will then perform a diagnostic test by examining the tongue and pulse, and exploring (by touch) various points on the body.

According to Andrew Castellanos, a licensed acupuncturist at the Stillpoint Wellness Center in San Francisco, acupuncture works by strategically placing needles on pressure points to regulate blood flow to trouble spots via major pathways in the body, thus resulting in relaxed muscles with less swelling, tension and pain. Each needle is connected to an Electrostem valve to deliver currents from one point to another, which increases oxygen flow and delivers white blood cells to the injury.

“Electrostem uses an electrical impulse that contracts and releases muscles. It allows the needles to push fluid out of the [injured] area and deliver blood back to those tissue paths — that lets the muscles relax so the body can heal itself,” Castellanos said.

He adds that the underlying premise lies in our body’s energetic system, which consists of Chi — energy that circulates throughout the body and is responsible for regulating our organs and other processes of the body. “Some theories say the needles trigger the release of endorphins into the brain, which is responsible for the feeling of well-being,” Castellanos said.

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The number of treatment sessions, which last about 60 to 90 minutes and range from $60 to $120 per visit, depends on the seriousness of the injury; however, significant improvement can occur after just a few visits.

While acupuncture can be used to treat a number of injuries, it is commonly used for shin splits, muscle pulls, tears or strains, and IT band, hip flexor, glute and quad pain.

Does It Hurt?

Unlike hypodermic needles, which are used for giving an injection, acupuncture needles are hair-thin. Castellanos said that patients associate needle pain with the same pain as receiving an injection, but acupuncture needles are virtually painless.

“The needles are inserted past the skin nerves so there is no pain. If there is any, it would be from the acupuncturist’s thumbs and fingers,” said Castellanos, who suggests the therapy works better than massages, as the needles are able to get to areas where our fingers can’t.

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Is It For Everyone?

Acupuncture isn’t for people on blood thinner medication due to the risk of bleeding, and for those who use a pacemaker, as it can interfere with the Electrostem system.

Locate your nearest acupuncturist at