Post Exercise Recovery

You have probably seen Chinese martial arts in movies and people doing tai chi in parks every morning. Physical exercises are an important part of Chinese culture and have many forms. Some exercises are very physically and mentally demanding, particularly those related to martial arts, and require certain techniques to speed up the recovery after such strenuous physical activities. Traditional Chinese medicine provides such techniques in the form of acupuncture, cupping therapy, herbal medicine, gua sha, tui na, and even qigong. And while we will be happy to assist you with recovery whenever you would need our help, we strongly recommend thinking ahead of time and preparing for the strenuous activities in advance whenever it may be possible, because then your body will suffer less damage and will not need as much time or effort for recovery.

Western Medical Viewpoint

Of all the traditional Chinese medical modalities, cupping therapy became most widely publicized when a number of Olympics athletes (specifically, Michael Phelps) were photographed with large red circles on different areas of their bodies but particularly on their backs in 2016. Considering that exercises are firmly embedded in the Chinese culture and include a wide variety of physical activities, ranging from slow methods, such as tai chi and qigong, to extremely strenuous exercises, such as wushu and kung fu, methods for helping with post-exercise recovery developed alongside the exercises. Research is slowly catching up with the thousands of years of trial-and-error, and studies confirm that tui na (Chinese massage that incorporates acupressure as well as other techniques) improves joint mobility and lowers “systemic inflammatory responses after acute exercise in athletes” (Chang et al., 2020). Another study finds that “Gua sha improves the rating of perceived exertion scale score and reduces heart rate variability in male weightlifters” (Xingze et al., 2017). In one study, researchers examined how qigong exercises affect the health of breast cancer survivors and concluded that the Baduanjin exercise—which is a type of Chinese traditional Qigong—“is an effective intervention for improving physical and psychological health outcomes among breast cancer survivors” (Ying et al., 2019). Chinese herbal medicine has also been confirmed to have beneficial outcomes for exercises (Mîrza, Topârcean, & Mîrza, 2017), and acupuncture is being considered as a possibly regular recovery technique in basketball (Calleja-González, 2016).

Traditional Chinese Medical Viewpoint

While it is good that research studies keep confirming that traditional Chinese medicine can be effective in post-exercise recovery, it is important not to lose the holistic approach of traditional Chinese medicine. There are certain situations in which specific trauma or acute symptoms, such as pain or nausea, may need to be addressed directly, the typical purpose of treatment in traditional Chinese medicine is to restore and maintain the optimal balance among internal organs, thus promoting best possible recovery from exercises in patients. It is more valuable to the person’s health to address any health issues gradually and holistically then on an individual basis as the need arises. If you know that you will need to do some strenuous physical activity in the future (such as running a marathon, for example, or participating in a physically demanding competition), there are ways to prepare your body as well as your mind for the challenge (usually, through qigong exercises). While it is understandable that living in the modern world leaves us all with little time to spare, maintaining your optimal health should be your number one priority. And when your body is in its optimal state, then it should recover from the strain caused by exercises fast. On the other hand, life is unpredictable, when the situation calls for it, and you need help to recover from an injury caused by an exercise, then traditional Chinese medicine can be beneficial.

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