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Can Alternative Health Improve Athletic Performance? - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

In the United States, we've reached a breaking point with our healthcare system. The opioid epidemic and other issues have brought out new interest in alternative medicine and a more holistic approach to health. Although antibiotics, surgery, and prescription painkillers will continue to be important options in medicine, many people are beginning to look at health and wellness differently, emphasizing preventative care and less invasive treatment options.

Athletes, who are prone to injury from games and practices, are used to using tape and ice for minor injuries, surgery and painkillers for more serious stumbles. But what about alternative solutions? Could holistic and natural medicine, combined with the power of new technology, help players improve their performance and avoid using addictive painkillers? In some cases, yes. Here are just a few different techniques teams are using to keep players healthy-naturally.


For thousands of years, healers have used acupuncture to stimulate and heal the body. This ancient art is used extensively in Asian medicine but has grown in popularity in the Western world over the last few decades. Using fine needles to puncture the skin, acupuncture focuses on specific areas of the body and simulates the tissues without using drugs of any kind.

Because of its ability to relieve pain, relax muscles, and reduce inflammation, it has become very popular with professional athletes, particularly in the NBA. Many current and retired NBA players have used it alone or in combination with more "traditional" treatment plans to help them recover from injuries or perform better.


Today, massage therapy is extremely popular among the public and athletes alike. Regular massages loosen and relax muscles, relieve stress, and promote well-being. It's a great addition to any athlete's health and wellness routines.

One of the best aspects of massage is that it's inexpensive and easy to find a massage therapist. Any player can benefit from regular massages, including those recovering from an injury or for injury prevention and those who want to improve their performance. LeBron James once mentioned that he'd like to hire on a massage therapist full-time!

Cutting-Edge Technology

Although ancient practices like massage therapy and acupuncture are helping professional and amateur players alike, there are some more high-tech options that major sports organizations are using for their players. Cutting-edge technology is being used by the NBA for injured players, in addition to other therapies and treatments.

Some of these new technologies in sports medicine include pneumatic recovery systems and anti-gravity treadmills. The pneumatic recovery system actually helps to automate massage, showing just how powerful holistic medicine approaches can be.

When it comes to high-profile players, no expense is spared and innovative solutions are constantly being tested. However, many of these treatment options are out of reach for amateur and youth athletes or have not been extensively tested in the long term.

injured youth

Preventing Youth Sporting Injuries with Alternative Health Solutions

Playing sports will never be completely risk-free. In 2016, there were around 1,160,321 injuries resulting from a variety of high school sports. While acknowledging this, we can also start to think about how prevention and alternative health might be able to help. It's especially key to prevent injuries in youth sports because injury to areas of the body that are still growing can compromise future health, well-being, and ability to continue playing.

The NBA and other national sports leagues may have millions to ensure that their players are healthy, but youth sports budgets are typically much more limited. Coaches need to focus on prevention and encourage their players to adopt healthy habits, including:

  • Taking rest days
  • Warming up properly
  • Cross-training for flexibility, such as yoga
  • Drinking enough water
  • Proper form and use of equipment
  • Paying attention to changes in the body

Putting the Health of Players First

Whether the player is an NBA star or a member of Little League, the most important thing to do is to always put the health of the players first. Coaches, parents, and players should all collaborate on ways to prevent injury, enhance wellness, and optimize performance. In many cases, that might just mean rethinking what healthcare means-and going to something more "alternative" and natural.

Articles by Sarah Daren