How is acupuncture useful for climbers?

Pain and Injuries

Acupuncture is most obviously useful in the event of injury. I’ve been in practice for well over a decade and have a particular interest in treating postural and overuse injuries. While most climbing injuries will recover on their own given enough time, some may not, and sometimes we’ll change our posture or gait, or compensate in other ways for an injury that can cause further problems. A course of treatments can help you avoid this, as well as speed up the recovery process to get you back to the crag or gym as quickly as possible.

Sometimes it’s not injuries that stop us climbing, but other health issues. Headaches, digestive issues, menstrual problems and fatigue are all things that can commonly get in the way of climbing regularly, and are the sorts of problems we see in clinic all the time.

Optimising performance

Alongside acupuncture and massage, I often use cupping and gua sha. These techniques from traditional Chinese medicine have been adopted by some physical therapists and renamed to make them sound more modern. Gua sha is often called IASTM (Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation) and cupping may be referred to as MFD (Myofascial Decompression). These techniques can be used to release trigger points, free up fascial adhesions and increase blood flow. Cupping is used by many athletes, and you’ll often see swimmers in particular with round cupping marks on their shoulders. By freeing up the shoulder, they are able to reach further with each stroke to make their swimming technique more efficient. It would make sense that improved shoulder (and hip) mobility would be an advantage for competitive climbers as well.

Calming the mind

Mental training is a key part of climbing. Fear of falling can lead to over-gripping and poor breathing, which will affect our stamina. It can also impair our decision making. Acupuncture can play a role in helping to calm the mind, switching the nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic mode. By regularly entering a deeper state of relaxation, we can gradually train that state in what would otherwise be more difficult or stressful situations.

Qigong is a form of health exercise (a bit like yoga or tai chi), which uses specific principles of posture and movement alongside breath work and mental training. It would be an ideal practice for climbers looking to calm their mind, improve their breathing or climb with less tension. I run weekly classes in Blunsdon or Faringdon, or can teach qigong principles and exercises as part of acupuncture treatments.

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