Results from a systematic review suggest that acupuncture may improve exercise performance and postexercise recovery.
Birinder Singh Cheema (University of Western Sydney, Campbelltown, Australia) and colleagues evaluated the results of four studies on the effects of acupuncture on the performance of and/or recovery from aerobic exercise. The studies were all small, involving 10-30 participants per trial with 84 participants overall. Three used a randomized crossover method and one a parallel group design.
Two of the studies focused on professional athletes and the other two did not specify level of fitness of participants-just that they were "apparently healthy." Fourteen acupuncture sites -DU 20, LI 15, LI 13, PC 6, ST 36, SP 6, PC 5, LU 7, LI 4, GB 37, GB 39, GB 34, and LI 11, and LR 3 - were used across the four studies.
One study observed significant improvements in peak power output, rate pressure product, and blood pressure in individuals who had electroacupuncture stimulation of PC 5 and PC 6 or LU 7 and LI 4 versus controls. However, two other studies showed no improvement in performance after acupuncture, using point combinations of the sites DU 20, LI 15, LI 13, PC 6, ST 36, and SP 6 or DU 20, ST 36, GB 34, LI 11, and LR 3.
The study that assessed recovery from aerobic exercise found significant improvements in blood lactate levels, consumption of oxygen, and heart rate following acupuncture at the sites PC 6 and ST 36 versus controls at 30 or 60 minutes after exercise completion.
Despite somewhat promising results, the authors highlight the limitations of the studies such as a failure to control for confounding interventions, and a failure to report on adverse events that might be associated with acupuncture.
While they note that they found "only preliminary evidence that acupuncture methods may enhance exercise performance and postexercise recovery," Cheema et al conclude in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that "further investigations involving more-rigorous study designs and methods of reporting are required."
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