Benefits of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Female Athletes
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can be a great tool for female athletes in any stage of their life. Acupuncture takes a natural approach to reproductive health and women’s health in general.
Young Female Athletes
For many female athletes who train long and hard hours in childhood, a delayed period, called primary amenorrhea, is fairly common.
The average age of menarche (first menses) in America is 12.5 years, but for female athletes their period can come much later, often after they have decreased the intensity of their workouts.
Along with a delayed menarche, there can be a delayed pubertal growth spurt and delayed skeletal maturation in young girls in athletics doing more than 15 hours a week. For example, after the Larry Nassar scandals in Gymnastics, many gymnasts have come out with their stories under the #gymnasticsalliance on Twitter.
It is all too common to hear stories of how they felt shame with their first menses and many tried to hide it from their coaches. These coaches (often female) failed to explain to their gymnasts that having a period is a normal, natural thing for a female. Instead, they would often use that as a sign that the gymnast was getting older and perhaps “fat”.
I have heard similar stories from ballerinas, figure skaters etc. It is often most common in sports where being tiny and prepubescent is seen as the “ideal” and growth spurts are seen as the enemy.
Recently, many current and former athletes have been speaking up so I’m hoping these old ideas are put to rest. Because it is completely normal for young female athletes to have their menstrual period and there is nothing “wrong” about it.
For those who don’t want to/cannot be on birth control, Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can regulate the cycle, relieve cramping, PMS, clotting etc.
In this study, Acupuncture has been shown to have a role in managing women’s health including regulating the cycle, hormones, PMS symptoms etc. The data clearly shows that Acupuncture improves menstrual health but the exact mechanisms have yet to be studied in detail.
Female Athletes and Fertility
For those who are older trying to conceive, it is important to lower the intensity of the workouts.
Recently, in this video Romee Strijd shared that she suffered from PCOS and was told by her doctor that she would have a hard time conceiving.
With Covid-19, she decided to lower the intensity of her workouts and found out that she was pregnant in several months. She and her naturopath doctor thought that the intense workouts were exacerbating her PCOS and causing her to have more frequent anovulatory cycles.
I would generally advise female athletes and women who enjoy high intensity workouts to do lower intensity workouts for three to six months before trying to conceive.
Lower intensity workouts means doing more pilates style workouts as opposed to HIIT or intense strength sessions at the gym. Yoga is another great low intensity workout that can also serve as a way to calm the mind and help relieve stress (which is necessary when trying to conceive).
Working out in general, though, is great for fertility health and has been proven in several studies to help with women who suffer from PCOS, insulin resistance among others.
For those who suffer from PCOS, both exercising to lose weight and exercising to maintain can be helpful. Please consult your OBGYN before deciding which will be a better option for you.
Not everyone suffers from PCOS in the same way, as Romee Strijd was extremely fit and actually needed to exercise less to help her PCOS. Here is a study done on the efficacy of Acupuncture on menstrual frequency in women with PCOS. They found that 38% of the patients receiving the acupuncture treatment had increased menstrual frequency after 14 acupuncture treatments.
Generally speaking, most women undergoing IVF treatment are advised to not exercise during their IVF cycle. This is because of the rare risk of Ovarian Torsion, which is when the ovaries twist on itself, cutting blood flow off. It is thought that exercise can increase this risk so most doctors suggest activities like light walking, yoga with no inversions etc.
In general, I think exercise is an important part to overall health and wellbeing. For athletes however, it is important to reduce the intensity when experiencing either irregular menses, or trying to conceive later on. I hope this was an informational blog post for you and let me know if you have any questions!