There's no way to make it sound pleasant—dozens of thin metal slivers inserted into the skin will send chills up just about any first-timer's spine. But it may be worth it. Acupuncture can drastically speed recovery from sports injuries and increase the effectiveness of your workouts. It is also known to help shed pounds, reduce stress, and improve performance in the bedroom—so you can return your body to the temple it's meant to be.
THE THEORY. Envision your body as a building and the meridians that transport energy as the pipework. "Water flows from one pipe to another," says Igor Mayzenberg, L.Ac., a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based acupuncturist who studied his trade in New York and the former Soviet Union. "If there is stagnation, water cannot pass through." In simple terms, an injury blocks the movement of energy. Acupuncture helps reopen those channels in order for the body to heal itself.
PUTTING IT TO USE. With regular treatments, even the most healthy soul will experience a spike in energy levels as circulation is improved and the body gets the most of nutrients you consume. Weekly visits are ideal, but even going biweekly "can help with maintaining health, improving stamina, boosting immunity, and getting better sleep," says Lawrence Lau, M.D., a dean at Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Los Angeles. If you exercise regularly, "it gives you more energy to do your workouts," he says.
With injuries, acupuncture can help reduce swelling and even alleviate pain. "You literally feel the results," says Philippe Manicom, L.Ac., who regularly treats Miami Heat stars Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, among others. As for weight loss, don't expect to lose eight inches on a waistline with two weeks of needle-work, but it can get you on the right track by decreasing appetite and improving the digestive process. Mayzenberg says the ear points work best, because they calm the spirits down, fight hunger, and speed up metabolism. "If the appetite is decreased, the body will burn more fat," says Lau.