Alternative Routes

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Fitness
Alternative Routes

The best advice I've ever heard from a doctor is: "When all else fails, take two shots of whiskey and call me in the morning." Thinking back on it, this may have been the advice of my grandma, or just something I saw in a John Wayne movie.

Nevertheless, a few years ago when I was laid up with a shattered collarbone-the result of a misguided attempt to hockey-stop on bullet-proof ice with poorly tuned skis-I found it to be advice worth heeding. With little else than high-powered aspirin to ease my aching clavicle, I turned to a bottle of whiskey. Sure enough, one gulp made me forget all about the pain.

Fortunately for today's skiers, there are better options than whiskey when conventional medicine fails. Alternative therapies have flooded the healthcare industry, with Americans expected to spend $14 billion on holistic, or alternative, health treatments next year, according to the American Society of Alternative Therapists. Here are three alternative therapies that some skiers have found to relieve pain and prevent ski-related injuries.

Acupuncture
With origins dating back nearly 2,500 years, acupuncture can hardly be considered a new healing therapy. Yet only in the early Seventies did the ancient Chinese technique start gaining attention within the U.S.

Today, acupuncture is widely used in sports medicine. Dr. Kris Justesen of the Alpine Wellness Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, says it can be useful with ski-related injuries such as knee sprains and shoulder injuries and can even help speed recovery from ACL reconstruction.

Acupuncture is rooted in the belief that "channels" of energy run through the body to irrigate and nourish the tissues at precise locations called meridians, says the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. An obstruction in the movement of this energy is like a dam. To reestablish regular flow through the meridians, practitioners insert thin metal needles into the skin. Depending on the treatment and the practitioner, the needles vary in size from half an inch to four inches long. The treatment may sound painful, but according to most patients, there's only a slight prick as the needle enters the skin. In the case of electro-acupuncture, a Westernized version of the technique, small pulses of electricity are sent through the needles, leaving patients with a dull aching sensation.

In her treatments, Justesen focuses on the area that's injured, along with key "healing points" near the kidneys, liver and spleen. "Sometimes we can see a dramatic reduction in swelling and pain after only one treatment," Justesen says. "But it does depend on patients and their medical history."

Dr. Garrett Sullivan of the Summit Surgery Center in Frisco, Colo., has treated nearly 150 skiers with acupuncture following ACL operations. During surgery, patients receive 30 minutes of electro-acupuncture to points surrounding the knee.

Press tacks about a half-inch long are then placed a few millimeters into three locations on the patients' ears. The tacks are taped with adhesive and left in for up to five days following surgery. The stimulation to the ear is thought to cause the brain to release endorphins, which also helps reduce swelling.

Both Sullivan and Justesen indicate that acupuncture is considered experimental treatment by much of the mainstream medical society. Whether treatments are covered by health insurance, and to what extent, depends on the provider and the scope of the insurance purchased. Many plans include acupuncturists on their list of participating physicians, but patients may need a referral from their primary physician for such treatments, and it's this referral that's often hard to come by. "Acupuncture, when used with traditional Western medicine, has been shown to give a 30 to 50 percent boost in the speed of a patient's overall recovery," Justesen says. "The two can work together effectively if you have practitioners who are willing to use them."

Applied Kinesiology b>
Dr. Clive Bridgham, of the Barrington Chiropractic Clinic in Rhode Island, calls it a perfect marriage between physical therapy and chiropractic. Applied kinesiology, developed by a longtime Detroit-area chiropractor, is in fact considered a branch of chiropractic. Yet where traditional chiropractic focuses almost exclusively on the body's skeletal structures, applied kinesiology applies muscle testing and analysis of the inner neurological systems to its treatments. As an example, Bridgham shares a recent case of a patient complaining of chronic pain in both knees.

An examination of the patient's knees, surrounding knee structures, ligaments, feet and other areas showed that the patient's kneecaps weren't following a normal path of travel as the patient moved his knees. The tests also revealed that some of the muscles that help operate the knee joint were inactive.

"The manual muscle test showed that six sets of muscles weren't doing their job right, so the knee joint could not work properly," Bridgham says, adding that the test results indicated "less than proper" alignment. A key applied-kinesiology principle is that if parts of the body are not properly aligned, indicating injury or trauma to that region, the body will send information via neurological pathways that will shut the muscles down to protect the area from further injury.

"So if the alignment is incorrect, we align the area, which then restores normal nerve interaction within the area and allows the muscles to come back to full function and strength," Bridgham says.

The alignment process is perhaps most similar to cracking your fingers. But in this instance it's your spine, pelvis, hips, feet, shoulders or other areas that are doing the cracking. While the cracking sounds painful, it's really not for most patients, Bridgham says. These cracking noises are a combination of joint surfaces sliding over each other and the fluids within the joints changing pressure.

"It's like opening a bottle of soda pop: You can hear a fizz because you're changing pressure," Bridgham explains. "But only in very rare cases do patients find it painful."

Muscle Activation Technique
The theory behind muscle activation technique (MAT) is similar to that of applied kinesiology. At its core, MAT-developed by Greg Roskopf, M.A., a biomechanics consultant to the Denver Broncos, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz-is based on the concept that as part of the body's protective mechanism, tissues and muscles surrounding key structures such as the knee become inactive after an injury.

"For injuries such as an ACL tear," Roskopf says, "it's important that we make sure that all of the muscles that have 'shut down' as a protective mechanism are restimulated. Otherwise there will be instability in the knee joint, which in turn leads to further pain or injury."

The problem is like a car with a dead battery, he explains. If the muscle isn't jump-started, the body will compensate and the inhibited muscle will not get stronger. Through compensation, the strong get stronger and the weak muscles remain weak. This is why, so often, skiers and other athletes continue to have knee pain after an ACL surgery.

Yet it's here where applied kinesiology and MAT part in their prescribed treatments. Instead of making skeletal adjustments to help weak muscles gain strength, the majority of the corrections Roskopf makes come in the form of corrective isometrics and massage techniques. These corrections are intended to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the dormant muscles, in turn increasing the muscles' ability to contract.

Roskopf starts his treatment with the corrective isometrics. For example, with a knee injury, he uses muscle tests to isolate the area of weakness. The patient then flexes the muscles of the knee for a short period of time in a way that stimulates the weak muscles. This is done to reactivate the same neurological messengers that shut the muscles down when they were injured.

Secondly, Roskopf treats the weak or injured muscles with cross-friction massage on the points where they attach to the bone. This increases circulation and the muscles' ability to contract. Roskopf reports that in just one treatment he often sees 70 to 80 percent improvement in his patients' overall range of motion and stability in the injured areas.

Roskopf says his technique can greatly benefit skiers. "When all of the muscles in our knees aren't at work, we can't create the edge pressure that skiing demands," Roskopf explains. "Many skiers turn toward an artificial means of correcting their angulation, such as adjusting the canting of their boots, but this is a matter of compensating rather than correcting. With muscle activation technique, we can correct the muscle imbalances so that our knees and hips can create the angulation naturally."

Health Hit
Studies show that on average a skier will have an injury requiring medical attention only once every 200 days of skiing.en they were injured.

Secondly, Roskopf treats the weak or injured muscles with cross-friction massage on the points where they attach to the bone. This increases circulation and the muscles' ability to contract. Roskopf reports that in just one treatment he often sees 70 to 80 percent improvement in his patients' overall range of motion and stability in the injured areas.

Roskopf says his technique can greatly benefit skiers. "When all of the muscles in our knees aren't at work, we can't create the edge pressure that skiing demands," Roskopf explains. "Many skiers turn toward an artificial means of correcting their angulation, such as adjusting the canting of their boots, but this is a matter of compensating rather than correcting. With muscle activation technique, we can correct the muscle imbalances so that our knees and hips can create the angulation naturally."

Health Hit
Studies show that on average a skier will have an injury requiring medical attention only once every 200 days of skiing.