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ALTIS Acupuncturist Donna Rebadow Inserts Needles into an Athlete

By Donna Rebadow, M.S., M.Ac., L.Ac., SMAC.

Many of the ALTS athletes and a few of the coaches call Sports Medicine Acupuncture “magic” because of how quickly it works and without medications, shots, or surgery. Often, results with them are seen in one treatment.

In my view, Sports Medicine Acupuncture is about 90% science, anatomy, and physiology, and 10% magic. It is both an art and science.

Many folks are curious about and misunderstand acupuncture. The most common question that I’m asked is: “Does it really work?” Yes. Acupuncture really works. The question that I’m most interested in, however, is “What is Sports Medicine Acupuncture’s role in both trackside and performance therapy?”

Acupuncture is the insertion of fine stainless steel needles into the body for the purpose of pain relief and to treat a multitude of physical conditions. It’s a system that came to us from China about 2,000 years ago. It has been practiced in China for over 4,000 years, but the written record and system is what gives us the 2,000-year mark. Regardless of the confusion about the start date, we know that it’s been around a long time.

There are many studies that report the cellular mechanisms of acupuncture1, and some that address the biological effects of acupuncture treatment2. I refer you to the two studies at the end of this blog if you’re interested in the biology of acupuncture.

The efficacy of acupuncture was never more evident to me when I traveled and studied at the Chengdu Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)3. I was there for six weeks, from May to June in 2008. The Great Sichuan Earthquake (8.0 Ms) had hit on May 12th, and I arrived with two of my colleagues on May 22nd. We were still feeling the aftershocks when we arrived and for about 2 – 3 weeks later. At the time, many people were fleeing both the university and the city, but the three of us were crazy about coming to learn, and mostly to help. That quake killed 69,197 people and left 18,222 missing. The staff there said we were heroes for staying, but they and the people of Chengdu are the real heroes. The experience was humbling.

Our hospital and the “Western” hospital down the street were treating many of the injured. The hospital assigned me to the Internal Medicine ward, and I saw amazing things. The I.V. bags were are filled with Chinese Herbal medicines, and we treated many of the crushing injuries with acupuncture. The pain relief was immediate and allowed many of the patients to be transported down the street for additional orthopedic treatment (casts, splints, etc.). From this experience, I knew that when I got back to the States, I wanted to further my studies with Sports Medicine Acupuncture.

When I returned, I made lots of inquiries into the best Sports Medicine Acupuncture program, and many directed me to Matt Callison’s program out of San Diego4. So I studied there and received my Sports Medicine Acupuncture Certification.

So, back to the main question that I asked – What is Sports Medicine Acupuncture’s role in both trackside and performance therapy?

“Sports Medicine Acupuncture incorporates principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western Sports Medicine to view the patient’s injury from a truly integrated perspective.”5 It is based on the following concept. “There is a segmental relationship with the spinal cord, the organs (zang fu), and the myofascial tissues that can support health or be adversely affected by their inherent neural and channel interrelationship.” We use “specialized Huatuojiaji needling techniques, acupuncture, and motor point prescriptions to release vertebral fixations and break the perpetuating cycle of facilitated segments that cause recurring injury.”6

The Sports Medicine Acupuncture Certification education has given me the skills necessary to assess and treat acute trackside conditions quickly and efficiently. The ALTIS performance triad of coach, athlete, and therapist is a perfect home for this modality. I would add that having Jerod Carnahan, Emily Robinson, Rick Wade, Junko Yazawa, and their skills in both Active Release techniques and Neuromuscular Facilitation speed up the process for correcting many presenting conditions. This is the role of Sports Medicine Acupuncture in trackside therapy.

In addition to the trackside work I do, Performance Therapy allows me an hour of clinic time to use all of the aspects that I have available as a Sports Medicine Acupuncturist. I conduct further postural evaluations, manual muscle, and orthopedic testing and needling using both Traditional Chinese Medicine points and the Huatuojiaji needling techniques.

The “art” or “magic” part of the acupuncture is all of the experiences that I bring, both past and present, having been or currently: an amateur then professional athlete, college professor, TCM acupuncturist, martial artist (Judo, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Kung Fu), sports medicine acupuncturist, and non-traditional energy healing practitioner.

Dan Pfaff, the Education Director of ALTIS, saw this and asked me to come on board May of 2014. I’m now retired from two careers and having my third career with ALTIS. I still maintain my Spring Training Sports Medicine Acupuncture duties with eight Major League Baseball Teams, but ALTIS has my heart and soul!

Thank you, Dan and Matt.

Please share so others may benefit.



  1. Cellular Mechanisms in Acupuncture Points and Affected Sites. Wolfgang Schwarz and Quanbao Gu.
  2. Deciphering the biological effects of acupuncture treatment modulating multiple metabolism pathways. Aihua Zhang, Guangli Yan, Hui Sun, Weiping Cheng, Xiangcai Meng, Li Liu, Ning Xie & Xijun Wang Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 19942 (2016)
  3. Chengdu Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
  4. Sports Medicine Acupuncture Certification Program
  5. What is Sports Medicine Acupuncture?
  6. SMAC (Sports Medicine Acupuncture Certification) Module I.


  • John Quintner says:

    If by magic you mean contextual (placebo) effects, then I would increase the allocated percentage from 10 to 100.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wondering if you have ever experienced acupuncture or read the science behind it?

      • John Quintner, FFPMANZCA, Consultant Physician in Pain Medicine & Rheumatology says:

        Dear Anonymous

        I have never experienced acupuncture.

        Yes, I have read about the science behind it.

        But I would be happy to update my knowledge if you have any recently published articles of relevance.

        PS why did you post under the cloak of anonymity?

  • “Sports Medicine Acupuncture incorporates principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western Sports Medicine to view the patient’s injury from a truly integrated perspective.”5 It is based on the following concept.Truelly amazing.

  • Muzammil Maqsood says:

    Can acupuncture lead to even more injuries than usual to athletes? Is acupuncture able to treat back pain? Please inform regarding these questions.

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