Injury Treatment: Complementary Medicine Approaches

When you’re training your hardest for the Olympics or accidentally trip off a curb while jogging, injuries can happen to the best of us. In fact, among college athletes, 91% report having experienced a sports-related injury.

Injuries don’t always have a straightforward solution and healing can feel like a long and difficult process. What about maintaining strength and mobility, or reducing pain? We think complementary medicine can provide value when you need to recover from sports-related injury.

Chiropractic care for injury recovery

Chiropractors are skilled at relieving pain caused by muscle tension and are skilled in spinal manipulation to reduce imbalance of the spine and associated organs. The hands-on therapy used by chiropractors is often used to treat back or neck pain or injury.

In a study of Australian soccer players, adding weekly chiropractic care was helpful in preventing hamstring injury. Chiropractic care also prevented lower limb muscle strains and knee injuries, as well as the number of days of practice and sports performance missed. The chiropractic manipulation included spinal manipulation, mobilization, stretching and massage.

Acupuncture for injury recovery

Our recent posts on chronic pain and on the use of cupping therapy by Olympic athletes showed that cupping therapy and acupuncture can be used for recovery and pain reduction. Oftentimes, injury comes with pain, and pain can reduce mobility. While it may seem counterintuitive, keeping moving will actually speed recovery. Adding acupuncture may reduce injury-associated pain and keep you moving as you recover.

The largest randomized trial on acupuncture and pain was done on osteoarthritis patients who experience pain and inflammation similar to that in injury. The study concluded that acupuncture provides improvement in function and pain. It was compared to other therapies like education on pain relief or “sham therapy,” which is a therapy that seemed like acupuncture to participants but was not.

If you’re experiencing pain associated with your injury, acupuncture may help. A Chinese Medicine provider can also evaluate the overall health of your body and may recommend other herbs or therapies to help your recovery.

Eating well for injury recovery

Of course nutrition is crucial health, so if you are already eating healthfully, there is no need to change your diet dramatically for recovery. The same foods that can help enhance your physical performance can also help you to recover from injury, so avoid energy restriction.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine released a statement outlining their collective position on nutrition, timing, and supplement choices. While supplements are not generally needed, a multivitamin may help with injury recovery. Continuing to eat a balanced diet will also promote recovery.

Specific to injury recovery, one review found that adding leucine and omega-3 fatty acids may speed muscle recovery and reduce muscle atrophy. Leucine can be found in soybeans, hemp seeds, peanuts, almonds, and eggs. Omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA can be found in flax and hemp, and in many fishes like salmon, halibut, and tuna. Fish oil supplements are also easy to find.

In case of injury…

Our most important tips are to communicate with your healthcare provider on how best to recover from your injury before implementing any treatment regimen. Maintain a healthy diet and seek out a chiropractor and an acupuncturist for relief of symptoms and pain.


Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, Lee WL, Gilpin AMK, Hochberg MC. Effectiveness of Acupuncture as Adjunctive Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2004;141(12):901–910.

Hoskins W; Pollard H. The effect of a sports chiropractic manual therapy intervention on the prevention of back pain, hamstring and lower limb injuries in semi-elite Australian Rules footballers: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2010; 11(64).

Malinauskas BM, Overton RF, Carraway VG, Cash BC. Supplements of interest for sport-related injury and sources of supplement information about college athletes. Adv Med Sci. 2007; 52:50–4.

Tipton KD. Nutrition for acute exercise-induced injuries. Ann Nutr Metab. 2010;57 Suppl 2:43–53.

About the Author

Jenna Troup spearheads EthosWell’s wellness research and works in both traditional and alternative medicine. She has a Masters in Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and is a devoted spin class attendee and yoga practitioner. Contact her on Twitter: @JennaCTroup and @EthosWell.