Acupuncture For Performance Enhancement- An Evidence-Based Summary


Many athletes search for additional ways to get that competitive edge through ergogenic aids such as performance enhancing drugs or supplements.

The foundations of Performance Enhancement include:

  1. Sound training
  2. Balanced nutrition
  3. Adequate rest and recovery


Acupuncture is another Performance Enhancing Tool that can have dramatic effects on some of the key parameters needed for optimal performance:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Balance
  3. Strength
  4. Power
  5. Recovery


What does the research show?

Acupuncture Improves Flexibility: Acute Effect of Acupuncture Before a Static Stretch of Hip Adductors

Acupuncture  works synergistically with exercise to acutely improve range of motion.

In this study subjects were randomly assigned to four groups and received one session of acupuncture treatment, followed by four sets of static stretches of the hip abductors. Maximum range of motion of hip abduction was evaluated with a flexometer before and after intervention.

The results demonstrated that an acupuncture application in acupoints before exercises of static stretching can generate an acute significant increase on hip range of motion.

Flexibility is an important aspect of neuromuscular efficiency, where optimum length-tension relationships in muscles allows for optimum acceleration, deceleration, stabilization and power output
Immediate effects of acupuncture on strength performance: a randomized, controlled crossover trial

33 recreational athletes were randomized to receive acupuncture, sham acupuncture and placebo laser acupuncture.

Assessments included drop jumps for maximum rebound height and quadriceps maximum isometric voluntary force.

Measurements were performed at baseline and immediately after treatment by a blinded investigator.

The investigators found 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.


Goal-Directed Acupuncture in Sports—Placebo or Doping?

A top modern pentathlon athlete was supported by a program of acupoint stimulation, which was directed to relieve the symptoms preventing him from effective performance.

Local acupoint stimulation was associated with improvements in:

  1. Arm fatigue during fencing
  2. Stiffness of the shoulder muscles during swimming
  3. General excitement and tremor of dominant arm during shooting

Acupuncture provided a means to avoid carry-over fatigue from one sport to another in order to achieve the best possible results


Ergogenic Effect of Acupuncture in Sport and Exercise: A Brief Review

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.

A number of studies 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.

Acupuncture treatment also improves hemodynamic parameters (blood pressure and blood flow).

Athletes should consider the usefulness of acupuncture in enhancement of sports performance.
Electrical acupoint stimulation increases athletes’ rapid strength

One hundred and fifty athletes were randomly divided into a trial group and a control group, 75 athletes in each group.

The study investigated the  effects of the electric stimulation of acupoints on 30-meter running, standing long jumping and Cybex isokinetic testing index.

The acupoint electric stimulation method was found to significantly increase athlete’s performance, including maximal peak moment of force, force moment accelerating energy and average power.
Acupuncture and Responses of Immunologic and Endocrine Markers during Competition

Acupuncture can be used to modulate the physical well-being of athletes.

This study examined the effect of acupuncture treatment on the physical well-being of elite female soccer players during a competition period.

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).

The following results of the study showed:

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.


Effects of Acupuncture Stimulation on Recovery Ability of Male Elite Basketball Athletes

Developing effective methods for helping athletes recover from muscle fatigue is deemed essential, particularly on the eves’ of important competitions. This study aimed to investigate the effects of acupuncture stimulation on athletes’ recovery abilities.

Subjects were selected from 30 male elite university basketball players who were randomly assigned to 3 groups: acupuncture group, sham group, and normal (control) group, each containing 10 subjects.

The results showed that the acupuncture group had significantly lower HRmax, VO2max and blood lactic acid than both the sham and normal groups at the 30th min post-exercise. Blood lactic acid of the acupuncture group was also significantly lower than that of the other two groups in the 60th min post-exercise.

The findings were in favor for using acupuncture to enhance the recovery ability for elite basketball athletes.


Key Points:

Acupuncture is an effective Performance Enhancing Tool that can have some dramatic effects on:

  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Recovery


In addition, Acupuncture is one of the most effective and noninvasive ways to treat pain, and improve range of motion and functionality in a muscle group.


About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin