Acupuncture for myofascial pain syndrome

Chronic pain problems can be extremely unpleasant and difficult to treat, and as such, priority is often given to managing a patient’s pain as much as possible. There are a number of different pain management methods available to modern medicine, and in this article we look at how acupuncture can benefit a particularly unpleasant chronic pain disease called myofascial pain syndrome.

What is myofascial pain syndrome?

MPS (myofascial pain syndrome) is a condition that has yet to be fully understood. The symptoms of the disease are pain in specific parts of the body, and in theory any muscle or fascia (connective tissue) in the body can suffer from MPS.

The intensity of the disease varies from mild pain and discomfort to severe, sharp pains. Affected areas often feature knots that are either visible or can be felt under the skin. MPS does not respond to typical treatments of muscle pain like heat, rest, or ice. The condition is chronic, meaning that the sufferer will experience pain in the affected area for some time.

MPS pain can affect virtually any muscle or connective tissue in the body, but when it does occur it is limited to specific areas around trigger points (usually the knots felt or seen at the site of MPS). These trigger points exacerbate the condition when stimulated by pressure or exertion, and treatment focusses on releasing them to restore free and painless movement.

Treatment involves regular physiotherapy treatment based on stretching the muscle gently without triggering pain, and over time a full range of painless movement can be restored to an MPS afflicted area. Once the trigger points causing the disease are effectively dealt with, strengthening exercises can restore the muscle to complete health.

There are drug therapies for MPS which include muscle relaxants and anti-depressants. Alternative therapies like acupuncture have also recently proven to be effective solutions to MPS for sufferers.

How can acupuncture treat MPS?

Evidence has shown that acupuncture or dry needling is an effective way to manage MPS and resolve trigger points. Some argue that the techniques used to treat MPS through needles are different to traditional acupuncture in that the palpable trigger points associated with the disease are targeted rather than the meridians and acupoints of traditional acupuncture. These are associated with the traditional Chinese belief in the importance of Qi (life energy) in maintaining health, and are the basis of traditional acupuncture.

Dry needling can be performed by trained physical therapists as well as acupuncturists, adding to the controversy surrounding this treatment and whether or not it is a traditional acupunctural treatment. Regardless of these discussions, there is strong evidence to support needling of trigger points as an effective way to treat MPS. Once a trigger point has been resolved (observed as a diminishing and disappearance of the characteristic ‘knots’ under the skin), most of the pain associated with the condition will also disappear, and with regular muscle strengthening and stretching it is often not long before a sufferer regains full mobility and movement.

Acupuncture is most effective in dealing with MPS in conjunction with other therapies, most notably physical therapy. If you are suffering from MPS the medical support from your doctor and other professionals is essential, and acupuncture should act as a complement to that rather than a replacement.

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