Acupuncture is one of the representative complementary and alternative medicine treatments used for various types of pain. This systematic review summarized and analyzed clinical case reports/series utilizing acupuncture for treating sports injuries in athletes, thereby providing the basis for further research to establish clinical evidence on acupuncture treatment in sports medicine. A comprehensive literature search was conducted in Embase including MEDLINE up to 21 August 2019 without language and publication date restrictions. Due to the heterogeneity of each study, explanatory and descriptive analyses were performed. As a result, in each case report/series, it was confirmed that acupuncture was applied for treating various types of sports injuries experienced by athletes. Acupuncture can help relieve short-term pain and recover from dysfunction and has been used as a useful, noninvasive, and conservative modality for managing sports injuries such as lateral meniscus rupture, femoral acetabular impingement, ganglion cysts, and sports hernia. In addition, acupuncture has been suggested as a treatment worth trying for diseases such as yips and delayed onset muscle soreness. The included cases showed some potential of acupuncture in the treatment of various types of sports injuries, beyond pain control in musculoskeletal disorders. However, considering that this review was based on case reports/series, a limited understanding of the clinical value of acupuncture in athletes is required. In the future, more specific research questions and hypotheses should be addressed to generate evidence based on experimental research.
Keywords: acupuncture; athlete; case report; case series; review; sports injury.