High-profile athletes like LeBron James and Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas have used acupuncture and yoga to stay healthy. Many pro and collegiate clubs, from cycling teams to football squads, have alternative practitioners like massage therapists and acupuncturists on staff. Outdoor athletes—mountain bikers, hikers, climbers, trail runners—are no different. As a result, things like ‘yoga for athletes,’ ‘sports acupuncture’ and ‘therapeutic sports massage’ are increasingly present and popular, especially on the Front Range, where fitness is core to the culture and some of the best athletes in the world come to train. But, how do they work and why are athletes—from weekend warriors to pros—increasingly drawn to acupuncture, yoga and massage for healing and recovery?
Getting to the Root
One reason alternative therapies seem to work may be that they take a holistic approach that looks at the entire person, not just their pain, to find the cause of an injury or imbalance. “If we can remove the root,” says Steven Rizzolo, founder of Boulder Sports Acupuncture, “then the branches (the symptoms) go away on their own and we’re more likely to make sure the injury doesn’t return.” Rizzolo’s hybrid practice combines Traditional Chinese Medicine with conventional methods like injection therapy, ultrasound and electronic stimulation according to the needs of the athletes he sees. “Everything I do promotes the healing processes that exist within the body. My treatments are less of a directive and more of a suggestion that the body picks up and carries forward. This way it can do what it naturally wants to, which is fix itself.”
Treatments that focus on only addressing the symptoms or the pain can sometimes miss the mark. “By the time I see an athlete, they have often already tried a number of things and nothing has worked,” says David Abookire, founder of Boulder Therapeutics, which specializes in sport and injury massage. “Alternative therapies look beyond the pain to the patterns behind it. Often, we need to put a system in place that will unwind these patterns and get the body back into balance.” By honing in on the body’s weaknesses and finding the injury’s source, practitioners can empower athletes to care for themselves over the long term.
Alternative therapies emphasize the importance of incorporating the mind in treating the whole person. “We can affect the brain through massage so it can release what’s causing tension in the body,” says Kay Levesque, a massage therapist and competitive athlete. “If an athlete can tune into their body and relax on the table, I can give them strategies for taking that onto the trail where it will also help.”