Acupuncture and Sports Performance

montreal canadiens

Acupuncture and Sports Performance


montreal canadiens


Introduction: Acupuncture originates from ancient Asian practices. A safe, effective, cost-effective, integrative approach, evidence based acupuncture is exciting for the future of sports medicine. The extensive clinical armamentum of acupuncture is now being seeked out by a growing body of the athletic population for performance enhancement and sports related injuries rehabilitation.

Key points: Acupuncture prevalence examples, main corrective measures, performance enhancement related indications, evidence summary for the mechanisms of performance enhancement acupuncture modalities.

Conclusion: Acupuncture is a well accepted therapeutic system effective at modulating the physical performance and psychological well-being of athletes. Acupuncture therapies are becoming the smart alternatives to pervasive doping and overprescription. Professional sports teams should include an experienced acupuncturist on their medical team to benefit from evidence based, leading edge, performance enhancement strategies and complete integrative rehabilitation programs with a predictable retention rate and cost-effectiveness.

Keywords: #acupuncture #TCM #performance enhancement #rehabilitation #evidence summary


Highest level athletes already are showing the way : follow their lead!

Akimoto T et al. (1) already underlined in 2003 that acupuncture and sports performance go hand in hand for asian athletes seeking to enhance physiological abilities and well-being…now this sports performance enhancement strategy is no longer reserved to specific cultural inclinations. Athletes around the world now benefit from the power of acupuncture. While acupuncture largely originates from ancient shamanic chinese practices, rigourous daoist disciplines, the procedure now triumphs at the tests of evidence based medicine. Acupuncture is considered safe, effective and cost-effective for a large corpus of ailments as a corrective therapeutic measure. Athletes are more than willing to use these modalities and appreciate their value in their training regimen. «Many top Chinese athletes seem to prefer the results of acupuncture to those of physiotherapy» says Jiao Wei, director of Beijing Sports University Healing Center.

In Goal-Directed Acupuncture in Sports—Placebo or Doping? the authors dwell on the serious question wheter the extent of the effectiveness of these therapeutic procedures and their rising popularity could be considered an unfair advantage over the competition, much the same as sports enhancement drugs.

Reassuringly, thus far acupuncture is not on the list of substances and methods prohibited by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at all times in and out of competition.

Acupuncture prevalence

According to a panel on acupuncture and sports performance in The Lancet, «Doctors at the healing centre of Beijing Sports University use acupuncture to treat about 70% of the chronic and acute muscle injuries they deal with…Many sports doctors in China also offer acupuncture for the treatment and relaxation of muscles…Dr. Li gives every person on his team 15 minutes of electrical acupuncture treatment at least four times a week to ease fatigue and muscle strains…»

A survey published in 2006 completed by 791 intercollegiate athletes, representing 20 sports in the state of Hawaii, revealed a significantly higher rate of use of alternative medicine than the rate of referral to conventional medical specialists. Acupuncture is one of the fastest growing therapies in the U.S., where visits to acupuncturists between 2002 and 2007 increased by 32%. Switzerland identified acupuncture as the most frequently used alternative medicine since 2004. Acupuncture represented a global market of USD 24,55B in 2017.

acupuncture and sports performance

National Post Chisato Fukushimai from Japan, participating in the 200 meters event at Rio 2016 olympic games with press tack acupuncture needles on the abdomen.


Acupuncture and LASER acupuncture treat pain, inflammation, improves range of motion and speeds up recovery from injuries. All that, side effects free. For acute pain, acupuncture has been demonstrated stronger, acting faster, and safer than intravenous morphine.

acupuncture and sports performance

Michael Phelps arboring cupping marks at Rio olympic games. Cupping is a common modality used in conjunction with acupuncture needling. Acupuncture is a multi-millenial, tailored solution to the consequences of intensive training.


Acupuncture for sports performance: better than doping!

Evidence from clinical trials points toward the effectiveness of acupuncture to enhance sports performance. Indeed, acupuncture has a significant impact on the performance of endurance sports athletes. It is really the smart alternative to doping, an unsustainable practice not only dangerous for the athlete’s health and well-being, but also potentially detrimental to the pursuit of a succesful career in professional sports. Furthemore Matsumoto describes effective japanese acupuncture protocols for systemic dexofication of noxious substances.


1. Acupuncture enhances rapid strength, isometric strength, muscular and cardiopulmonary endurance




Acupuncture promotes endurance: it creates a a delay in sports related fatigue, by postponing the descending point of muscle strength (2) (3) (3.1)

Traditional acupuncture protocol allows an increase of muscular strength and power. In endurance activities, acupuncture treatment improved haemodynamic parameters (4)

Electroacupuncture enhances athletes rapid strength (5)

Acupuncture is efficacious for improving isometric strength. This is pertinent no only for performance enhancement but for rehabilitation aiming neuromuscular function as well (6)



Acupuncture acts also by influencing muscle oxygenation (7.1)

Acupuncture significantly increases maximum performance capacity and performance at the anaerobic threshold. This translates as a functional improvement in the athletes haemodynamic and metabolic mechanisms (7)

«Cardiopulmonary endurance is the absolute element for athletes in all types of sports. VO2max as a fundamental indicator for evaluating cardiovascular endurance is one of the critical elements for succeeding in endurance sports.» (7.2)

Effects of auricular acupuncture boast an improvement of aerobic function, including Maximal oxygene intake (VO2 max) and Minute ventilation (VEmax) (7.2) (7.3) E

Acupuncture also promotes a decrease in resting heart rate, CO2 + blood lactic acid production, thus enhancing the recovery ability of athletes. Acupoint stimulation before exercise could decrease warm-up time necessary to prevent injuries

2. Acupuncture positively influences physical and psychological well-being




Acupuncture reduces anxiety prior to competition (8)

Endocrine and immunologic markers evidenced the fact that acupuncture effectively affects the physical and mental well-being of athletes during competition (1)

Acupuncture contributes to the improvement of performance by positively changing the athlete’s subjective perception of muscle tension and fatigue (9)


Acupuncture boosts sports performance by positively affecting muscular oxygenation, muscular strength, power, as well as muscular and cardiopulmonary endurance, range of motion, haemodynamic and metabolic parameters. It can even help prevent and treat sports related injuries. Acupuncture has also been shown to modulate the physical and psychological well-being of athletes. It’s now definitively obvious that an acupuncturist is a must on your sports medical team. Further clinical trials with large sample sizes are warranted to explore some of the exciting preliminary findings regarding sports performance enchancement through acupuncture interventions.

Finally, why choose an expert acupuncturist -i.e. with at least 10 years under the belt- to treat professional athletes with acupuncture needling and LASER acupuncture? Due to the level of clinical expertise. Mastering the practice of acupuncture takes time. (10) Acupuncturists are the needling experts. Acupuncture is a board regulated profession in Québec since 1995.


Acupuncture is a well accepted therapeutic system effective at modulating the physical performance and psychological well-being of athletes. Acupuncture therapies are exciting for the future of sports medicine, becoming the smart alternatives to pervasive doping and overprescription. Professional sports teams should include an experienced acupuncturist on their medical team to benefit from evidence based, leading edge performance enhancement strategies and complete integrative rehabilitation programs with a predictable retention rate and cost-effectiveness.


Olivier Roy, Acupuncturist. As of 2019, Olivier Roy logs in 15 years of experience in healthcare, among which 13 years were dedicated to the clinical practice of acupuncture: obstetrical acupuncture, fertility acupuncture, pediatric acupuncture, sports performance acupuncture, rehabilitation acupuncture, for sports professionnals, but also for athletes going at it in their living rooms, retired folks who decided to stay active, and travelers, who came from afar to find the acupuncture expertise in Montreal and the greater metropolitan area. Olivier Roy leads a busy private practice in his Montreal clinic and he also regularly administers acupuncture treatments in hospitalised patients.


(1) Acupuncture and responses of immunologic and endocrine markers during competition. (2003) ”The measured parameters included salivary secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) level, cortisol level in saliva, subjective rating of physical well-being, and profile of mood states (POMS) 1). Exercise-induced decrease of salivary SIgA and increase of salivary cortisol were inhibited by acupuncture. 2). Acupuncture improved subjective rating of muscle tension and fatigue. 3). The POMS score was modulated by acupuncture. These results support the effectiveness of acupuncture for physical and mental well-being of athletes.”

(2) Improved performance in endurance sports through acupuncture (2010) ”All groups showed statistically significant enhancements in their running times and their complexity factors, but in the case of the runners treated with acupuncture, the improvements were highly significant. Therefore, the field test proves that acupuncture has a significant impact on the performance of the athletes in endurance sports.”

(3) Effect of acupuncture on regulating skeletal muscle endurance in rats. (2010) (Modèle murin) ”As an assistant training method, acupuncture can postpone descending point of muscle strength endurance to delay sport fatigue.”

(3.1) Effect of Dry Needling on Thigh Muscle Strength and Hip Flexion in Elite Soccer Players, Christian Haser et al., Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 49(2):378–383, FEB 2017

(4) Ergogenic effect of acupuncture in sport and exercise: a brief review. (2010) ”Acupuncture is one of the most popular alternative methods applied in Western medical practice. In addition to its curative properties in various chronic conditions, demonstrated by the number of clinical trials, acupuncture has been recently applied as an enhancer of sports performance. Reviewed studies of published literature on the use of acupuncture in resistance and endurance sports activities demonstrated the association of traditional acupuncture protocol with increase of muscular strength and power. In cases regarding endurance activities, acupuncture treatment improved hemodynamic parameters of participants but not their aerobic performance.”

(5) Electrical acupoint stimulation increases athletes’ rapid strength (2006) ”Electrical acupoint (acupuncture) stimulation can enhance athlete’s rapid strength.”

(6) Immediate effects of acupuncture on strength performance: a randomized, controlled crossover trial (2010) ”The present study shows that a single acupuncture treatment was efficacious for improving isometric quadriceps strength in recreational athletes. These results might have implications not only for athletic performance enhancement, but also for rehabilitation programs aimed at restoring neuromuscular function.”

(7) Influence of acupuncture on physical performance capacity and haemodynamic parameters. (1992) ”Performance was determined by means of a spiro-ergometer test which was carried out at the beginning and at the end of five weeks of treatment consisting of one session per week. The subjects from the group which actually received acupuncture were able to increase maximum performance capacity significantly and also physical performance at the anaerobic threshold. This may be interpreted as a sign of functional improvement in haemodynamic and metabolic mechanisms.”

(7.1) Effects of Acupuncture Stimulation on Muscle Tissue Oxygenation at Different Points, Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016;923:327-333. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-38810-6_43.Kaneko Y et al

(7.2) Effect of auricular acupuncture on oxygen consumption of boxing athletes LIN, Zen-Pin et al., Chinese Medical Journal, Volume 122, Issue 13, « Auricular stimulation has significant effects on the maximal oxygen intake (VO2max). Understanding these effects during competition would also help to improve the aerobic capabilities and performance results of athletes in addition to cardiopulmonary function. The stimulation is recommended to use appropriately in the three phases of training: adjustment, training and competition since it will be effective in improving the training efficiency and performance. »

(7.3) Effect of Meridian Acupressure on Aerobic Performance of Healthy Young Population: A Randomized Controlled Study, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary MedicineVol. 24, No. 60, Shahin Ahmedov, Baris Filiz »The results of the study demonstrated that finger-tip acupressure increases aerobic performance of young healthy males on more than 10%. »

(8) Acupuncture decreases competitive anxiety prior to a competition in young athletes: a randomized controlled trial pilot study (2017) ”In conclusion, the results suggested that acupuncture has the capacity to decrease cognitive and somatic anxiety prior to competition in adolescent athletes while this was accompanied by significant physiological changes.”

(9) The acute effect of acupuncture on 20-km cycling performance. (2008) ”…acupuncture gave higher RPE scores compared to the other tests. The clinical significance was that the higher RPE scores gave lower time and VAS scores.”

(10) Research on action features of acupuncturist experts’ acupuncture needle twirling skills (2013) ”Movement frequency consistency and temporal efficiency are the action features of expert acupuncturists in performing the uniform reducing-reinforcing twirling skill, which differentiates the performances of experts from novices. The assessment and training of this acupuncture skill should focus on these kinematic features.”

Copyright © 2019 Olivier Roy, Acupuncturist

All rights reserved, reproduction prohibited without the author’s written consent.