Treating a Sports Injury: Acupuncture, Cupping, Cryotherapy and More

If I’ve mentioned it once I’ve mentioned it a thousand times…I got a bad IT-band injury on a run last summer that just would not go away. At first I thought it would only last a few weeks, and then a few months, and then it had been 8 months and I was at my wit’s end. It overshadowed my whole experience living in London for a year, and meant that I wasn’t able to train for the Paris Marathon.

In an effort to speed up the healing process, I saw a physical therapist, but I also tried some non-traditional forms of healing. Here’s what worked for me…and what didn’t!

Acupuncture

Acupuncture was the first thing I tried after physical therapy for my IT-band. Acupuncture has worked for me in the past for various health issues, so I was really hopeful! It might have helped a little but ultimately I don’t think it made much of a difference. I think that perhaps the IT-band was such a big area (the outer thigh) that acupuncture was too targeted to a specific area to really make a difference.

Cupping

Then my acupuncturist suggested cupping…so I figured I’d give it a try.

Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction. People get it for many purposes, including to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being, and as a type of deep-tissue massage. (Source)

Cupping was really cool. These large cups were placed on my outer thigh and then suctioned onto my skin with a hand pump. It felt like a very strong pulling sensation, and felt like it was doing more for the large area of injury than the acupuncture needles had. It didn’t hurt, but this is what my leg looked like afterwards:

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I tried cupping about 3 times and felt that it helped!

Cryotherapy

This was the coolest treatment I tried. When I went to Paris in April for the marathon (which I wasn’t running), I stayed with my friend who was running the marathon. She asked if I wanted to try cryotherapy two days before the marathon and I figured, sure, why not! Even though I hadn’t run high mileage and didn’t really have anything to recover from, I was curious about it and didn’t think it could hurt.

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We went to the spa that offered the cryotherapy treatment and were told to strip down to our underwear but keep our socks on, and were given Ugg slippers to wear on our feet, over disposable paper booties.

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Socks, paper booties, and Ugg slippers: the height of Parisian fashion

I went first. I entered the chamber and had to slowly rotate constantly, to keep the blood flowing to my feet. It took 2 minutes for the temperature to drop to -196˚C (-320˚F) and then held steady at that temperature for 3 minutes.

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It was really cold, of course, but after a few minutes I just became numb!

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After we had both had a turn, we went into the waiting area and sipped hot tea. We felt very fuzzy and woozy. The technician said to us in French: On est un peu stoned, oui?” which means: “You feel a little stoned, right?” It was definitely a strange feeling!

I don’t know if the cryotherapy helped a ton, since I didn’t have anything to recover from when I went, but it was a cool treatment that I would certainly try again. 

Compression Boots

I just recently tried these in Austin and they are the BEST! A fitness studio here offers “recovery lounge” sessions where you go in a cold tub (basically an ice bath, at 50˚F) for 10 minutes and then sit in compression boots for 45 minutes. They inflate and deflate over and over, allowing the lactic acid to be released from your muscles and speed up recovery. It’s also just so relaxing to sit back and have your legs compressed…it feels almost like a massage. I’m definitely going to incorporate these into my marathon training routine.

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Compression Socks and KT Tape

I can’t write a recovery post without mentioning my go-to’s, compression socks/calf sleeves and KT tape. You can see me wearing both in this photo taken after the Paris Marathon, where I only ran 7 miles intermittently with my friends, but it was the longest run I’d done in months so I needed the extra support! I have been using a combination of these for years and feel like they’re both a worthwhile investment. KT tape helped me a lot when I had a slight Achilles issue several years ago.

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Hopefully this information will help you to run all the miles (and eat all the macarons) for a long time to come!

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Have you tried any of these treatments?

What’s worked for you as far as injury prevention/treatment?

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3 thoughts on “Treating a Sports Injury: Acupuncture, Cupping, Cryotherapy and More

  1. I’ve struggled with IT band syndrome! It’s a pain. I went to a chiropractor when I had tendonitis in my foot (I swear it traveled down from the IT band). He did cupping and also re-aligned some things. I think it helped? I only went twice. I’m not sure. I also read on Run to the Finish blog that resting the IT band is not the best, but rather doing range of motion movements so I’m going to keep that in mind if/when mine flares up again.
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