5 Alternative Medical Treatments for Common Sports Injuries

Treating common injuries with Chinese medicine, chiropractic care and yoga therapy.

From sore muscles to more serious conditions, a multitude of aches, pains and injuries can afflict the recreational athlete. In many cases, doctors prescribe the RICE elixir (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and maybe a few sessions of physical therapy. But alternative options abound. Some, such as chiropractic, have become more mainstream. Others, such as yoga therapy and traditional Chinese techniques, have only recently caught on. Wondering what might provide some relief for you? Here are some common sports injuries, and alternative treatments that address them.

Injury: Tennis elbow
Treatment: Chiropractic adjustment and associated therapies

You don’t have to be Serena Williams to be affected by this common condition, which stems from repetitive gripping, especially involving the thumb and first two fingers. It’s an inflammation of the tendons that join the muscles of the forearm outside the elbow. It can be so painful that shaking hands or twisting a doorknob can make you wince.

Chiropractors offer options including electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound and sports massage, which can provide quicker healing when standard treatments don’t work. “We also look at the integrity of the joint and check to see if there is a restriction with the elbow joint,” says Joe Lewis, a chiropractor at Zastrow Chiropractic Clinic.

Injury: Calf strain
Treatment: Laser treatments, dry needling

Calf strains can occur in runners who quickly boost their mileage or in sports involving frequent pushing off. Laser treatments stimulate the production of adenosine triphosphate, which enhances cell membrane permeability and can speed injury recovery. Dry needling, another treatment option, involves the insertion of a thin filament needle into a muscle’s trigger point to stimulate healing.

Injury: Shoulder strain and sprain
Treatment: Yoga therapy

Many activities can result in shoulder strains and sprains, including swimming, tennis, weightlifting and throwing sports such as baseball and softball. Some find relief with yoga therapy, using postures and meditation to help the body heal. This is practiced one-on-one, with the practitioner considering the patient’s habits and lifestyle. “I look at what the person is doing day-to-day…. How is their sleep? Are they managing stress? Do they eat properly?” says Biz Casmer, a therapist at INVIVO. “My goal is to help people become more aware of their imbalances – things they can correct and control.”

Injury: Muscle soreness
Treatment: Cupping

Cupping, also known as myofascial decompression, was used during the 2016 Summer Olympics by swimmer Michael Phelps. Proponents say it’s effective for tight muscles of the neck, back and legs. In cupping, a cotton ball is lit on fire inside a glass or medical-grade silicone cup. The ball is then removed and the cup inverted and placed on a patient’s skin. The heat creates a vacuum that is said to pull impurities out of the body.

Injury: Iliotibial band syndrome
Treatment: Acupuncture

IT band syndrome is an overuse injury of the leg, from hip to knee. In runners, it can result from worn-out shoes and uneven surfaces. For bicyclists, improper seat position can contribute. Acupuncture can offer relief. Inserting needles increases blood flow to local tissues, helping the body heal. “You often don’t have to needle the exact spot,” says Krista McCain, an acupuncturist at Hundred Grasses.

‘The Alternative Route’ appears in Milwaukee Health, a special issue from Milwaukee Magazine.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.