Alternative Recovery Options: Do They Really Help?
There is always some new-fangled diet, relaxation technique, cure or old wives-tale that we should be doing or trying or living by. (Paleo, acupuncture or Coconut oil pulling, anyone?) For runners, it seems every season there is a better way to recover, train, race, hydrate, etc. Most runners tend to be critical and judgmental about change, as we’ve painstakingly figured out what works for us. But on occasion, we are willing to try some these fads. Especially if the fad is related to injury prevention or recovery.
The impact of running on our body is real. Both the good and bad whether we will admit to it or not. Every now and then there is one or two alternative treatment options that seem safe and pretty intuitive as well as something we can reasonably add into our regime. While not always new, in fact most alternative options are quite old and rooted in ancient tradition, our access to them is new. While some believe there are actual results, others believe most of these treatments are a placebo. Any non-invasive technique you can add to my running toolbox that increases the comfort in your own body, real or placebo, is worth the research, time and at least one try.
What is it? A technique used by physical therapists to treat muscular irritation that is causing pain. A “dry” needle, meaning one with out medication, is inserted into areas of muscle called trigger points.
Acupuncture has been around for what is basically forever and this is very similar but like most of the Western world of medicine, dry needling is very focused on science. After an evaluation by a licensed physical therapist, any affected muscles will have a needle placed into them to make the muscle spasm. The more tension a muscle has in it or larger the muscle is the grander the opportunity to spasm. Think about the spasm a tight piriformis could produce. Laws on needling do vary by state so it worth asking before you book an appointment if the physical therapist you are seeing can dry needle.
What is it? Heated glass cups are put on specific places along the body (meridians) and creating a suction in order to stimulate blood flow (also known as the flow of energy).
While the “flow of energy” sounds a little out there for some, often those in alternative medicines refer to blood flow or circulation as energy. It must be pointed out that cups can be heated or unheated. And quite often, depending on the duration that the cups are left on, they can leave bruise-like circles on the skin. Michael Phelps swam in the 2016 Olympics in Rio with cupping marks splayed across his back as did most of the American swim team.
What is it? Body cooling for therapeutic purposes. In sports and exercise medicine, cryotherapy traditional application is using ice packs or ice baths. Recently, whole-body cryotherapy has become popular.
Cryotherapy is really nothing new. Who hasn’t heard of R.I.C.E? (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate) Anyone who ran cross country or played football in high school remembers the school trainer putting them in the ice tub or placing a hurt ankle in a Home Depot bucket of ice water. Basically cryotherapy is marketing at its finest and the ability to now affordably create the effects of ice baths with dry ice or nitrogen. Just like the old ice tubs or buckets, there is whole body and partial submersion. Except now whole body submersion is when not simply when your whole body is submerged but your neck and head as well. There are varying schools of thought on the speed at which the full body option allows your body to cool quicker. This isn’t also the quickest of the fads. Many people need to work up to the three minute suggested maximum.
Sensory Deprivation Tank
What is it? A soundproof tank filled with salt water that is at the same temperature as your skin. The tank has no light source and is completely dark. Participants float in the water in order to experience sensory deprivation (which is removing stimuli from one or more senses).
Think meditation on steroids or meditation for people who cannot force themselves to shut out the world to mediate. During the sessions in the tank, you may exit at any time. At no point will the tank be locked. It is suggested that you remain in the tank for one hour. This is extremely dependent upon a variety of factors. Maybe some days you can relax quickly, while others it takes 30 minutes to release. I have heard people comment that they were so relaxed they could hear their heart valve opening and closing. On the flip side of that, once relaxed, how much relaxation each induvial needs it personal. Some people get bored.
What is it? Manual manipulation to help improve blood circulation, relax muscles, soothe sore muscles and relieve stress. Massage therapy can work well for both preventing or recovering from an injury.
An oldie but goodie. As long as you are not squeamish about another person touching you, massage therapy can be a great way to relax and ease sore muscles. If you are close to a race, make sure that the massage therapist has worked on you before. Anyone who has been for a massage, especially a more intense massage therapy session, knows that experiencing some soreness after treatment can happen, depending on the time or pressure used. This soreness will usually reside within a day or two.
With an open mind and as long as you seem to be a good candidate, trying a well-researched, new technique can be a good opportunity to find a new effective tool for prevention and treatment of injuries. Even if doesn’t work, it could be good knowledge to have for later.