Chinese Medicine and Its Role in Running

A General Overview

Physical fatigue. Overuse injuries. As runners we are all too familiar with those issues and at some point, during the course of a year, most of us find ourselves injured. Sometimes our injuries will heal with a little time off, or we might get better with modified training plans. Other times injuries can be more serious and require no running for long periods of time, something none of us want to consider, right!? This is often when runners seek out alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, and with great results.

Thing is though, we don’t have to wait for that fatigue to kick in, or for our bodies to get worn out from overuse injuries. We can learn, through Chinese medicine, to care for our bodies and to some extent prevent injuries and stay a little more balanced as runners, moms, wives, sisters and women. We can learn, that fatigue, injuries and even what we feel about it in terms of emotions, will hit our organs as well. And our organ health has a huge impact on our running game and ability to recover. And as women, our organ health is important in terms of periods, childbirth and other female related health issues in general, which affect our running bodies.

Learning about our bodies through the lens of Chinese medicine can be a game changer when it comes to longevity in running, and health in general. Our bodies are made to last a lifetime, but we need to learn how to care for ourselves and not wait until we are too much in pain or feel imbalanced, to seek help.

Chinese medicine views each of us individually, like a network of complementary forces. There’s always a balance of push and pull within us, and this is referred to as dynamics of qi (pronounced chee), which can be translated in a simplified way, to energy or life force. Health is maintained through balanced qi, and each of our inner organs have their own qi. This qi can get out of whack, through improper food, too much or too little exercise, strong emotions and a bunch of other reasons. The qi can get stuck. It can shatter. It can flow in the wrong direction, get deficient or stagnant, and it will affect our organs in ways that will create a butterfly effect, affecting the whole organ system inside us. Often, we feel that something is “off.” We can feel diffuse pain, tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest, or a range of emotions such as anger, irritation and sadness. And way too often we think it belongs to “being a woman,” and we might even blame it on PMS. Learning about qi and our organs can be a game changer for our health.

See, this qi runs in specific channels in our bodies. These channels have a direct link to our organs. Overtraining, for example, will affect various organs and their channels. The best way to begin to explain this, is through the example of overtraining with less or no recovery time and rest. This leads to muscle weakness, and the muscles are associated with the spleen and stomach functions, according to Chinese medicine. Spleen deficiency is one of the most common types of deficiency among athletes, as well as the population in general. I see this in basically all my patients. Our spleen and stomach, according to Chinese medicine, is the origin of qi (and blood), and if these organs cannot perform their functions, it will result in, for example, muscle weakness and fatigue.

Lack of rest and recovery will also damage our kidneys. And the liver is way too commonly affected too, among athletes and women in general. The liver is the organ involved in physical fatigue. As long-distance runners, liver health is key.

Rest will regenerate qi. However, rest won’t get rid of the fatigue associated with overtraining. The organs will most often need to be treated and prevented by using appropriate acupuncture points based on Chinese medicine diagnostic principles. And prevented is an important word here, since athletes sometimes need to overtrain by necessity, if the runner is on a competitive level. Prevention is key, and acupuncture would be a fantastic concept to consider, and should be just as “normal” as getting a running, or strength coach. Maybe more important, if you ask me.

Of course our organs in Chinese medicine include the western medical-physiological function as well, but also views our organs as part of a holistic body system where our organs are more than “just organs.” Our organs are very much connected to our emotions, which is a form of expression of qi. And we all know emotions are a huge part of athletic performance. Or just being a human.

Using Chinese medicine as preventative medicine allows us athletes to continually optimize our health, rather than act only after catastrophic injury or disease occurs. Pain and illness result when qi becomes blocked or unbalanced for any reason. It doesn’t matter if we are weekend hikers or professional runners. Our bodies are made to last a lifetime. But we need to learn how to take care of this one body we have been given, to fully enjoy our lives as trail sisters, daughters, girlfriends and human beings. Chinese medicine can teach us many lessons in how to increase the quality of our life. Knowing the power behind this medicine benefits athletic performance and helps speed recovery from injury. But again, it’s a medicine that involves a lot of prevention. And I’ll share as much as possible with you all, one organ and lesson, at a time. In the meantime, look up the nearest trained acupuncturist to for an “acu-nap” to feel what the fuzz is about.

Sofie Ringsten

Sofie Ringsten

Ex-cop and fighter turned full time yoga teacher, educator and acupuncturist. Living in Sweden and Maldives, spending time in the trails and ocean, teaching yoga, giving acupuncture treatments, knitting, reading and spending time with my family. In love with the spiritual aspects of ultra-trail running and dedicated to bring acupuncture to female athletes and people in general.

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