Saturday, October 31, 2009

Running in Sandals

Here's an interesting article from the New York Times, suggesting that human bodies are made for long-distance running and that high-tech shoes could be causing injuries by encouraging bad running form. One interesting comment was that our bodies are made for running down large prey over long distances -- for instance, on a hot day, a human can outrun a horse over 26 miles. Based on the book 'Born to Run' by Christopher McDougal.

The Human Body Is Built for Distance

Byron Russell

Friday, October 30, 2009

Performance Enhancement Herbs: SAN QI

Herbal medicine is a great supplement to any sports training program. It is simple to take a few extra pills each day, and the results can be amazing.

One of the first uses is for pain and bruising. There is a long tradition in martial arts for using herbs. If you walk into a martial arts studio (and many locker rooms), one of the first things you'll notice is the smell of sweat combined with camphor and menthol from all the lineaments, pads and sprays used externally to combat pain and bruising. These work a lot like BenGay -- but have the addition of an important herb that strongly moves blood and reduces inflammation and pain: San Qi or Tian Qi. Formulas based on San Qi are sometimes called 'Hit Formulas.' For external use, they come in the form of herbal pads, sprays, and lineaments, and they are effective for most traumatic injuries -- including those that are self-inflicted from heavy training. I use these a lot in my office. Here's a picture of the San Qi plant and that's the raw medicinal form of the herb above.

You can also use this herb in pill form and it is a great find for anyone who is training really hard. Taken daily, it can prevent or reduce feelings of muscle soreness and pain, and speed recovery time: meaning, you can train harder and suffer less afterward, with less off time between training sessions. Of course, the internal formulas are better known for their use after serious injury for speeding healing. Besides their preventative use in sports, I recommend these formulas for patients who have been in car accidents, who are recovering from surgery or other kinds of physical injuries such as sprains and strains. In fact, San Qi is known for helping almost any traumatic injury.

Byron Russell

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reader Question: Can Acupuncture help Tennis Elbow?

This is a great question since Tennis Elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is one of the most common injuries seen in sports. Some people call it an irritation of the muscles and tendons in the forearm. The main symptom is pain -- especially when cocking the wrist back or lifting objects. Tension around the elbow along with weakness in the arms and hands are usually seen as well. The explanation for this is inflammation thought to be caused by micro-tears in the tendon and muscle tissue. This happens in a lot of conditions, including plantar fasciitis and many repetitive stress injuries.

This is definitely a problem for any sport that involves using the arms. In my clinic I've seen many early stage cases that involve only the warning symptoms of stiffness, some minor weakness, and an uncomfortable awareness of the elbow and forearm. In more severe cases, patients come in wearing braces and often have already had cortisone shots and spent time in physical therapy, but are still experiencing pain, especially after any exercise.

So, what can acupuncture do for this? Reduce pain, relieve inflammation, encourage blood circulation and speed healing. The results are particularly noticeable in a situation like this involving damaged tendons where there is limited blood circulation.

Dr. Peter Dorsher, an MD with acupuncture training, presented a great study on this at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2001. He treated 22 patients and found that the symptoms were relieved after 4 treatments. Eight and half months later, 77% still had no symptoms and had regained full use of their arms. He noted that some of these patients had had symptoms for months and tried many different therapies before acupuncture without success.

The techniques use for treatment include needles around the affected area, microcurrent electric stimulation, moxa (the application of heat), cupping (suction to bring stagnant blood out of the area), and therapeutic exercise.

Figuring out why the irritation occurred in the first place is also very important. Preventing injury and preventing RE-injury is better than treatment. I always ask patients WHY this is happening NOW. Have they changed their technique or experienced general changes in health? Higher stress in other areas of your life can lead to chronic muscle tension which makes the tendons more vulnerable to tearing. We also look at the condition of the Blood and Liver Qi. Blood (particularly Liver Blood) bathes and nourishes the muscles and tendons. If the Blood and Qi (energy) become blocked, you are more vulnerable to stress damage.

Thanks for the question! By the way, Sania Mirza and Gael Monfils are two prominent tennis players who have talked about using acupuncture in their training. And check out the link to Tennis Times for more information on using acupuncture in tennis.

The Tennis Times

Byron Russell

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What can TCM do for an athlete?

I guess that is question number one. What can TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) -- that is mainly Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs -- do for an athlete today? What can it do for you?

It's a big question that touches on what acupuncture is, what proof there is that it works, and what kind of problems it is most helpful for. I want to address all these questions over the next few weeks, but let's start with a couple of prominent examples. Health care is (and should be) private -- so, I never discuss my patients without specific permission. Fortunately, a number of famous athletes have discussed using TCM in the press.

A great example is Kerri Walsh (Olympic Gold Medalist in Volleyball). She used acupuncture to resolve pain and speed healing after Rotator Cuff Surgery. This is something I see a lot in my practice -- and it isn't just for athletes. Once of the benefits of acupuncture and herbs is that it helps to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain, and speeds healing. I also think it works well for reducing the formation of scar tissue. For a high performance athlete, this is particularly important in reducing time out from training, and in regaining the full use of the injured part of the body.

Another is Yao Ming (Houston Rockets Basketball All-Star), who suffered a stress fracture in his left foot and had surgery to install a screw to stabilize the bone, again with acupuncture and Chinese herbs as part of his aggressive rehabilitation program -- to speed his recovery. This is a type of injury I've seen a number of times in my practice -- recently with a couple of triathletes and skiers. It can be a tough surgery to recover from, but I've seen great results - a good surgeon is the first step, then acupuncture and herbs to reduce the swelling, pain, and scar tissue. I also use Electric Acupuncture (Microcurrent Electric Stim) and infrasound treatments. This type of surgery and rehabilitation also helps people with severe bunions and foot pain.

So, one answer I will suggest is that TCM helps with post-surgery rehabilitation, with the goal of reducing swelling, pain, inflammation and restoring full function as quickly as possible. Next is a discussion with more specifics of what the treatment entails.

Byron Russell