Heal Yourself: Holistic/Alternative Approaches to Injury


Heal the natural way when possible.: Photo by: lzf/iStock/Getty Images Plus collection/Getty Images

With all-natural and organic products taking over the grocery shelves and even the beauty and cleaning sections, it’s no surprise the “my-body-is-a-temple” way of thinking is bleeding into treatments for injuries from exercise. Why pop another pill if your knee is tweaking when a more natural approach is available?

Here are five holistic approaches for the everyday athlete to fend off injury and/or treat a workout-related ailment:

Acupuncture

This traditional Chinese medicine practice aims to realign imbalances in the body via the insertion of surgical, stainless steel needles at certain acupuncture points on the body. Acupuncture can help quell symptoms before they arise, but can also a range of aches and pains, plantar fasciitis and arthritis, as well as symptoms tied to fibromyalgia and lupus. The insertion of the needles can produce no feeling at all, a small pinch or more of a zing.

“Acupuncturists access the vital force of chi, the energy that flows through your entire body,” says Stefanie Greenleaf, a Boulder, Colo.,-based licensed acupuncturist who has been practicing for 11 years. “When it isn’t flowing the way it should, symptoms develop.”

Prolotherapy

Prolotherapy is a nonsurgical way to treat ligaments, tendons, and joints that have an acute or chronic injury, according to the American Osteopathic Association of Prolotherapy Regenerative Medicine. The procedure helps the body’s healing process by using a shot, filled with natural irritant substances such as glucose, platelet rich plasma or stem cells sources, to promote inflammation that is aimed directly at the injured site.

The body then is said to boost its healing inflammation mechanisms to promote new, healthier collagen growth. Depending on the extent of the injury, some spots will need just one treatment, while others may require four or more. You may experience swelling at the point of treatment for up to one week.

Cupping

Cupping — a process of using heated cups to apply suction to the skin — helps people cope with excess heat, stagnation or inflammation. Cupping is often used on larger parts of the body, like the upper and lower back, shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. The more stagnation or heat you have to release, the more likely you will have slight bruising.

A cupping session can be tailored to your body in terms of the amount of suction. Some practitioners, like Greenleaf, use a traditional technique of fire cupping, in which a cotton ball soaked in alcohol is held in the cup with a tweezers, lit on fire, then removed quickly to place the now suctioned cup onto the skin. Other practitioners use cups with a pump to provide an even stronger suction. Once they are suctioned, the cups provide a slight pull to the area of skin and muscle, similar to having a knot worked out of a muscle with massage.

Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a form of alternative medicine that involves moving, stretching and massaging a patient’s muscle and joints, with a focus on preventing and treating back, neck and should pain, as well as arthritis pain and athletic injuries. Osteopaths use a whole-person approach to tune into one’s well-being that includes assessment of nerves, muscles, bones and organs.

With osteopathy manipulative treatment, the goal is to increase joint mobility, relieve muscle pain and tension, and increase blood supply to tissues, according to the National Health Service of the United Kingdom. The treatment involves massage, stretching of stiff joints, movement of joints through their natural range of motion, as well as short, sharp movements to the spine that may produce cracking sounds or feelings.

Rolfing

Rolfing is a holistic practice in structural integration, in which bodyworkers manipulate the soft tissues (or fascia) of the joints, muscles, bones and organs in a systematic way to bring “order, easy, and function,” said Keith Economidis, a licensed rolfer and bodyworker in Boulder, Colo., home of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. “What chiropractors do with bones, we do with soft tissue.”

Rolfing may appear similar to massage, but it focuses on changing the patient’s structure in response to gravity to promote better function. Rolfing sessions are also active — the patient gets involved in the work and movements. “Many folks find Rolfing as a last resort,” Econodimis said. “By easing and balancing the body, we find that more resource is available and more energy to do the things you want.”

About the Author

Mattie SchulerMattie Schuler is an adventure journalist who lives in Boulder, Colo. She covers all things outdoors, travel, health and fitness, yoga and gear.