Sports, whether it is played in a large stadium or an open patch of land, are known and loved by all. For most people, it is a great pastime, a way to get some much-needed exercise while getting the chance to socialise and make new friends at the same time. Some popular sports such as American Football, Lacrosse or Professional Body Building (to name a few), can be incredibly taxing on the body and the risk of injury is generally quite high. Athletes, particularly those playing at a competitive level, therefore have to try to maximise practice time while avoiding common and particularly painful injuries like sports hernias.
But what is a sports hernia? Despite what the name suggests, it is not actually a hernia in the traditional sense, which is why doctors tend to use the term athletic pubalgia instead. A sports hernia is an injury that occurs when a muscle, tendon, or ligament in the groin is torn, and is therefore similar to a sprain. A hernia, meanwhile, is a condition in which one of your organs pushes through and out of the area where the organ is supposed to be.
Sports hernia often occurs in athletes playing sports that use a lot of rapid changes in direction, such as rugby, football, and ice hockey (giving rise to the term “hockey groin” as another name for sports hernia). A sports hernia is characterised by severe pain in the groin area, which can spread to the surrounding area such as the hip muscles. The groin will feel tender and may also have some inflammation or swelling. If the injury is particularly severe, the person suffering from sports hernia will have difficulty getting out of bed or exerting any pressure in the groin area.
Because sports hernia is similar in nature to sprains and other joint injuries caused by overstretching or tearing, typical treatments may involve taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, these types of medicines do not do much to aid in the healing of the torn ligament; NSAIDs only reduce the swelling and pain sensation. On the other hand, remedies and treatments from a certain country in the East have been used to treat muscle and joint injuries for hundreds if not thousands of years. This article will take a look at some treatments from traditional Chinese medicine that can do a number on a sports hernia and get the player back in the game.
Acupuncture is a staple of traditional Chinese medicine, and is probably the most easily recognised. It involves inserting very thin needles into specific areas in the body to achieve certain physiological effects, most commonly to treat muscle or joint pain. The Chinese believe that every person has life energy called Qi or Chi that flows through their body, and that sickness is caused by a disruption to this energy flow. Based on this idea, acupuncture was invented as a way to redirect and restore the flow of Qi in the body.
In a standard acupuncture session, the practitioner first examines the patient and checks their vital signs, making note of anomalies in breathing, the tongue, eyes, and other details. The practitioner also asks the patient about their current ailments and where they are occurring. After this, the main procedure begins. Long and very thin needles – usually with a diameter of less than 1/20th of an inch – are then inserted into certain points on the body called meridians, which are believed to be the pathways of Qi in the body. These needles are then left stuck in the body for about 15 minutes before being removed.
The idea of Qi and energy flow in the body is continually shunned by medical experts. However, despite the scepticism surrounding the procedure, acupuncture does produce noticeable effects towards reducing muscle pain and helping to cure physical injuries like sprains and a sports hernia.
Another effective way to treat sports hernia through traditional Chinese medicine is through the intake of herbal medicines. Herbal therapy in China has been studied and practiced for over two thousand years, and writings about the subject date as far back as the first century BC.
Unlike typical medicines and synthesised drugs which tend to have side effects, the vast majority of herbal medicines do not. The treatment of sports hernia through herbal medicines is rarely done alone, but is often done in conjunction with acupuncture or other physical therapy. Herbal medicines are not an outright cure to muscle pains, but they assist with the body’s natural ability to heal itself and regenerate damaged tissues. This allows the patient to recover from a sports hernia or other muscle or joint injury much faster. There are a lot of myths surrounding acupuncture, one of the main assumptions being that is painful. This assumption is generally not true because the needles are very thin and not hollowed out much like the usual injection needles used in medicine.
Cupping therapy is another traditional Chinese treatment that is becoming a lot more popular among athletes in recent years. One particular example of this was during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where many of the competing swimmers, including the legendary Michael Phelps, were found with circular marks on their bodies left by cupping therapy.
The procedure goes like this. Cups are placed on areas on the body where there is muscle pain present. The cups are then removed of air, usually through the use of a small vacuum pump or by placing a candle in the cup (in this method, the burning candle uses up the oxygen in the cup through combustion). The suction on the skin produced by the cups encourages the flow of blood on and around that location, which in turn allows for better circulation of oxygen around the body and encourages the removal of waste products from the blood.
If you play any sport, either for fun or as a profession, injuries like sports hernia can ruin your next couple of weeks or, in severe cases, your career as an athlete. And although Western medicine can do the job quite well, it can oftentimes become very expensive or leave unwanted side effects that can turn into bigger problems later on. In such a case, traditional Chinese therapies may just have what you need to cure what ails you, so you can get back in the game and keep playing the sports you love.
Baolin Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine is an Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine clinic based in Perth Western Australia. They have been servicing Australians since 2003 and come with a wealth of experience.
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