Recently, a young university-level hockey player sought acupuncture treatment following her doctor’s recommendation for numbness in her left leg and weakness in her left ankle.

The symptoms started five years ago while she was in a Hockey Canada training camp. At first, she felt pain and discomfort in the groin that led her to want to stretch constantly. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed disc herniation at the L4-L5 level.

Numbness and loss of strength

The numbness was on the lateral aspect of the calf and the last 2 toes, and she could feel weakness in her ankle when skating or walking. The symptoms were not exactly what I expected for a herniated disc at the L4-L5 level. Having not seen the report of the radiologist, I based the treatments on the symptoms present and those described by the patient. The physical examination did not reveal anything except a sensitivity when palpating along the lumbar spine. The symptoms were aggravated if she “went on ice” twice in the same day and sometimes the numbness made it difficult to fall asleep . The patient says she sometimes had low back pain and felt “blocked” in her upper back. For a year, the situation seemed to be deteriorating and she had to stop weight lifting two months earlier.

Conventional treatments, including physiotherapy, had failed to clear the symptoms but massage relieved it. She was taking Pregabalin (an analgesic) and Voltaren (anti-inflammatory) as needed.

Effective treatment adapted to the situation

In Chinese medicine, the lateral face (meridians, muscles and cutaneous zone) is named ShaoYang. It is in this area that the patient felt numbness. The weakness of the ankle was described as an instability, “the ankle that twists by itself”, rather than as the drop foot that could be found with compression of the nerve roots at L4, L5, S1. This also corresponds to the ShaoYang aspect.

The goal of the acupuncture treatments was therefore to restore circulation to the ShaoYang aspect of the leg. The points selected to effectively deal with this problem were on the opposite arm, according to the Balance Method and on the ShaoYang meridian of the affected leg. Some points were added along the spine and the posterior aspect of the leg. On some needles a slight electrical stimulation was applied for a few seconds.

At the second meeting, a week later, the symptoms had decreased significantly. The patient was able to increase the training volume and start weightlifting again without worsening symptoms. She felt her ankle stronger and stable. She still felt numbness on the side of the leg near the knee. At the third encounter, the patient reported no longer having numbness and regaining the strength of her ankle. She played two hockey games and was not bothered by numbness or weakness of the ankle.

Three treatments later

Although it would have been advisable to have a fourth treatment to ensure that the patient was well and that the symptoms did not return, the patient preferred to stop the treatments. Her insurance reimbursed a limited number of treatments and she preferred to keep them for later in the season. In this case, three treatments were sufficient and, in my experience (15 years of clinical practice), the symptoms should not return.

An approach of choice for sports injuries

Acupuncture is an approach of choice for the treatment of pain, musculoskeletal problems and sports injuries. Even an old injury, as in the case study above, can be treated effectively and quickly. It is always best to treat your pain and injury quickly. You should consult your acupuncturist as soon as you get hurt or you feel pain.

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