TheRio Olympics have wrapped up a few years ago. Among the many, manyrunning-related highlights, we won’t soon forget Michael Phelps racking upmedals in the pool. But what got almost as much attention as the swimmer'smedal count were the strange circular marks all over his upper body. That’swhen Dr Lim Xiang Jun gave her two cents worth in the TV interview on howcupping aid the performance of athletes.
For athletes of any races ( or ironman events or simply exerciselovers, optimal performance on the day of the race is often desirable andmuscles cramping up in the middle of the race will just be a shame, not to saywashing the efforts of months of preparation down the drain.
Therefore, pre race preparation and training are of utmostimportance, spanning from months to the last few moments before the flag off.
The week before and the week after the race or event are bothimportant periods in any form of athletes training. This is because muscles,hormones, tendons, cells and almost every physiological system is pushed to themax pre and during the race.
However, traditional forms of treatments such as cupping andacupuncture have been shown to help the body recover faster.
Some of the scientifically measured physiological systems thatare most effected in the preparation and after the race/event and how long eachtakes to repair and how traditional forms of treatment can help withpreparation and recovery are listed below:
Muscle soreness and fatigue are the most obvious case of damagecaused by intensive training. Scientific studies1 conducted onthe calf muscles of runners concluded that both the intensive training for, andthe race itself, induce inflammation and muscle fiber necrosis thatsignificantly impaired muscle power and durability for up the 14 days postmarathon.
It will take the muscles about 2 weeks post race to return tofull strength.
One study2 have shown that blood lactic acidwhich are the cause of muscle fatigue was significantly lower afteracupuncture, hence inducing the rate of muscle recovery.
Cellular damage, which includes oxidative damage, increasedproduction of creatinine kinase (CK) – a marker that indicates damage toskeletal and myocardial tissue, and increased myoglobin levels in the bloodstream (which often results in blood being present in urine) is seen afterintensive training and exercise.
One study3 concluded that CK damage persistedmore than 7 days post race while another study4 confirmed thepresence of myoglobin in the bloodstream post marathon for 3-4 days post race.
Both of these studies clearly indicate that the body needs atleast 7-10 days of rest post race to fully recover from the cellular damagecaused during the race.
These markers, along with a suppressed immune system, which isdiscussed below, is the primary reason that the optimal recovery scheduleavoids cross training the first 2-3 days.
Studies5 have shown that electroacupuncturepromotes regeneration of nerve fibres and motor function recovery, hence it isdefinite that acupuncture combined with other modalities of traditionaltreatments can help with cellular and tissue damages recovery.
Post race, the immune system is severely compromised, whichincreases the risk of contracting colds and the flu.
Furthermore, a suppressed immune system is one of the majorcauses of overtraining. A recent study6 confirms that theimmune system is compromised up to three days post race and is a major factorin overtraining syndrome.
Therefore, it is critical that the athlete rest as much aspossible in the three days following any race of high intensity and focus oneating healthy and nutrient rich foods.
Studies7 have tried to explain that cuppingtherapy can aid in Muscle relaxation, changes in local tissue structures andincrease in blood circulation which might be explained by “Nitric Oxidetheory”. Immunological effects and hormonal adjustments might be attributed to“Activation of immune system theory”.
For acupuncture, more and more researches8 hasrevealed that acupuncture can regulate immunity, for example, to enhanceanticancer and antistress immune function and exert anti-inflammation effects.Nevertheless, even not to the extend of anti cancer, the boosting of immunityhas proven significant benefits for post race recovery.
Hence it is clear that intensive races like ironman,triathlon/biathlon/marathon induce significant muscle, cellular and immunesystem damage during training and for 3 to 14 days post race. Therefore, it isessential that all athletes have a 7 day speed pre-race recovery and preparationprotocol and a 7 day post-race rest andrejuvenation of these physiological systems.
Depending on the type of races and your body condition, Dr LimXiang Jun will assess and customise a 7 day pre and post race programme withtraditional treatment modalities including Acupuncture-Cupping to fully prepareyou before the race and recover effectively after the race.
1 Hikida RS et al, Muscle fibernecrosis associated with human marathon runners. Neurol Sci. 1983 May;59(2):185-203.
2 Zen-Pin Lin et al, Effects ofAcupuncture Stimulation on Recovery Ability of Male Elite Basketball Athletes.The AmericanJournal of Chinese Medicine 37(3):471-81.
3 Kelvin Tsai et al. Oxidative DNAdamage in human peripheral leukocytes induced by massive aerobic exercise. Free RadicalBiology and Medicine.Volume 31, Issue11, 1 December 2001, Pages 1465-1472.
4 J E Smith et al. Effects ofprolonged strenuous exercise (marathon running) on biochemical andhaematological markers used in the investigation of patients in the emergencydepartment. BMJ Journals. Volume 38, Issue3
5 Yi-Fan Li,et al. The Comprehensive Therapy of Electroacupuncture Promotes Regeneration ofNerve Fibers and Motor Function Recovery in Rats after Spinal Cord Injury. EvidBased Complement Alternat Med. 2018; 2018: 7568697.
6 Lakier Smith. Overtraining,excessive exercise, and altered immunity: is this a T helper-1 versus Thelper-2 lymphocyte response? Sports Med. 2003;33(5):347-64.
7 Abdullah M.N.Al-Bedah. Themedical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action.Journalof Traditional and Complementary Medicine xxx (2018) 1e8.
8 Fengxia Liang. Acupuncture and Immunity. Evid BasedComplement Alternat Med.