By Ali Pechman
In the weeks leading up to the Junior Olympics in water polo, Allison Vreelandâs â08 shoulder pain was intensifying with each daily four-to-six hour practice in the August heat. She found herself in a dilemma: she could not stop playing because of the importance of the tournament, but the pain from over-usage was upon her each time she shot the ball.
With her mom at her side, she soon found herself in a different kind of doctorâs office, dimly lit, with fountains in the waiting room. She had already tried physical therapy and taking time off, but described both treatments as âtemporary.â Vreelandâs last resort was a shot in the dark: she tried acupuncture.
âMy momâs friend recommended acupuncture, so I decided to try it, and itâs been really helping,â she said. Vreeland now gets acupuncture once a week.
With the changing high school landscape, where the best athletes practice year-round and on multiple teams, ACL tears in young athletes are commonplace, and students are plagued with stress from a variety of other activities, as reported in a recent article in the New York Times. Therefore it is no surprise that students are turning to treatment that is off the beaten path.
Vreeland herself is a year-round athlete, playing five days a week almost all year: in the fall she trains for an hour-and-a-half a day, in water polo season for up to three hours a day, then in swim season for two hours a day.
âThe thing for athletes is that you canât ever really just stop playing,â Vreeland said, which is why she believes acupuncture is the best fix, since physical therapy is often time-consuming and is more preventative.
Though acupuncture is considered a new alternative medicine in western cultures, it has an over 2,500-year history, according to the Los Angeles Acupuncture and Wellness Center website. Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles on the bodyâs surface in order to manipulate body function. The ancient Chinese believed that the life energy âChiâ circulated through the body along pathways called meridians. If energy cannot âflowâ along the meridians, pain occurs.
âThe beauty of acupuncture is if itâs going to work for you, it will work right away,â Dr. Igor Boyarsky, specialist in emergency medicine, said. âIt will take three or four treatments for there to be an effect. Most other treatments require time.â
âWhen my acupuncturist starts talking about âZenâ or the âChiâ it makes me question it,â Vreeland said. âEven now when I go in they have an orb ball. Iâm almost embarrassed about the fact that I believe in it, but it works.â
Vreeland said she has noticed acupuncture is an upward trend with athletes, noting that her acupuncturistâs sonâs high school baseball team members almost all receive treatment. Rather than for overuse from sports, Danielle Naghi â09 gets acupuncture for tendonitis in her arms from writing too much in school. She usually gets acupuncture around the end of the year when the pain is the worst. Alistair Belton â09 tried acupuncture once for soreness from weeks of lacrosse practice, but considers acupuncture more psychological.
âI would compare it to meditation in that if you believe it works then it will, but for me there were no lasting results.â
Vreeland advises students to be comfortable with needles and to expect some pain, but also to have a little faith.
âAs Harvard-Westlake students itâs hard for us to believe in things that are not a âhard science,ââ Vreeland said. âBut as long as the person is comfortable without hard evidence they should be great with it.â