How my back injury was the best thing
that could have happened to my cycling career
By Margaret Thompson

As a competitive cyclist I have accumulated my own list of physical problems, some stemming from overuse of certain muscle groups and others resulting from the inevitable tumbles from the bicycle.  However, this year I am enjoying the best season of my cycling career, at an age – 50 -- when many people think of retiring from bicycle racing for good.  This metamorphosis has not gone unnoticed by the cycling community, and I am often asked, “What gives?”  My answer:  Acupuncture. 

In the late summer of 2003, after years of constant racing and over a year of intense family changes, my back finally gave up.  Sacroiliac joint syndrome was the diagnosis, and it gave me more lower back and hip pain than either physical therapy or chiropractic manipulation alone could relieve.  Muscle spasms, pain and frustration had become a way of life, and the intermittent lapses in good training in order to beat the inflammation severely cut into my fitness.

Fortunately, a fellow racer reminded me that she had been receiving acupuncture treatments for years and suggested that I try it.  My back had seized up during a bicycle race, and dismounting and remounting my bike was almost ridiculous to watch, let alone do.  The day after that race I started my search for a different way to address this condition.  What started as an exercise in “merely” easing back pain has turned into a personal quest for excellence in athletics and in life.

Good fortune was mine again as the acupuncturist that I chose to call, Mackay Rippey, agreed to take me on as his patient.   My massage therapist had been under Mackay’s care for a running-related stress fracture to her foot, and enthusiastically sent me in his direction when I asked her for a referral.  My first session lasted two hours, and Mackay proved to be the most gifted listener I had ever encountered.  Coupled with his proficiency in Classical Five Element Acupuncture was his ability to read how the physical and emotional stresses I had encountered had taken their toll.  After my first treatment I was able to race with much less pain, and I felt immediately uplifted by the process. 

My third treatment was absolutely miraculous.  The points that were treated not only abolished my back pain for over a month but also reawakened the hamstring that I had torn in 1996.   I was able to start rehabbing it in a constructive way, and having the use of two strong legs was surely to be a boon to my cycling.  My chiropractic treatments were now working the way they should, and as an additional unexpected bonus, the tendinitis in my elbows and wrists faded away to nothing.  I started to really look forward to the 2004 racing season.

Now that I had better use of my body and was not experiencing the pain that was plaguing me I found that my mind was opening up to the many possibilities that really existed for me in the world of cycling.  I wanted to train more to become as competitive as I had been before my hamstring tear, and it was becoming apparent to me that through acupuncture I would be able to recover from this added training.  Mackay recognized my fixation with the sport of cycling and offered to help me in this personal quest by sponsoring me with regular acupuncture treatments.

Realizing that I could recover from increased training and from a variety of injuries, I then needed to make the investment of Mackay’s time and expertise pay off by giving myself every advantage on the race course.  I had lived with the fact that I was a bit heavy to climb with the leaders, but suddenly I was ready to change that, and so I began a sensible and successful weight loss program.  I studied coaching methods and rode the required base miles in my basement over the winter.  The acupuncture treatments gave me the courage to change how I did so many things, and Mackay’s knowledge and support instilled in me the discipline necessary to make my goals possible.

The results have been gratifying, and I’ve surprised a lot of people along the way.  My lower back pain has been gone for months, and I was able to meet all of my big goals for the 2004 season.  Finishing on the podium in all of my races at the USCF Master Road Nationals was thrilling enough, but winning the silver medal in my age group at the UCI World Master Mountain Bike Championships was the height of my career.  Yes, I worked for this fitness, but the possibility that I could actually strive toward all this would never have occurred to me had it not been for those initial acupuncture treatments.

There have been a few blips along the way.  Lifting a 5 gallon jug of water this winter made my low back very angry.  A small crash from my mountain bike in late April turned my left shoulder into an inflamed mess.  Still, come race day, I have always been ready to attack the roads and trails with the best of them, thanks to regular acupuncture treatments.

People are curious as to how acupuncture “works.”  I cannot give a definitive answer to that question, but I can forcefully answer that it DOES work.  The folks that I have found who have also had acupuncture treatments completely agree with me.  I like to think of it as a process which “unblocks” healing pathways, allowing healing to occur.

As athletes we have all had injuries that have not completely responded to any of the more conventionally prescribed treatments.  We have all had bouts of exhaustion from racing and training that just take the fun out of our favorite sport.  Acupuncture has put the fun and the excellence back into my bicycle racing, and I know that it can help many other athletes as well. 

To find out more about Classical Five Element Acupuncture, to learn about how you can help your sport performance and recovery through acupuncture, or to find an acupuncturist near your home check out Mackay’s website at   Once you give acupuncture a try your only regret will be that you had not done so sooner.