I began my journey to understand acupuncture in 1997 to help my chronic pain patients feel better. I learned it was the most powerful tool and the most powerful therapy in medicine.
And it’s been this way for five thousand years.
First, let me start by explaining some key words and ideas. When I help my patients, I frequently need to clear up some terms used in modern medicine that have caused some confusion.
Acupuncture: A procedure in which specific body areas associated with peripheral nerves are pierced with fine needles to produce anesthesia, relieve pain, and promote therapy.
Needles or Tool:A thin stainless steel wire, by tradition solid and flexible. But any steel wire will do. An acupuncture needle is a fine thin filament flexible instrument.
The Procedure: The stainless steel needle is inserted into the skin, flesh and muscle, which causes microscopic tissue injury. The injury triggers a natural healing cascade of repair.
When it enters a muscle, the needle will trigger a muscular re-polarization and the muscle twitches. After the twitch, the muscle will relax. The relaxed muscle will be a little longer and less tense and tight.
The need: Muscles are the engines of movement and locomotion. They are ubiquitous to the human body. They contract and release billions of times consciously and unconsciously.
Muscles function in locomotion and are made up of the fibers of movement, the coverings, the transitions to a ligament and the attachment to bone. This muscular unit is called myofascial tissue.
What happens if the muscle breaks or falters? You get sick!
The key component to most chronic pain issues are trigger points (TPs) that develop in stressed muscle fibers. TPs are discrete, focal, hyper-irritable spots located in skeletal muscle. When infected with TPs, muscles became shorter, tighter, stiffer and denser. These infected muscles alter the natural function and motion of the body.
Short and stiff myofascial tissue irritate and compress associated nerve fibers, pain fibers, joints, lymphatic tissue, arteries and veins. A shortened muscle will alter the alignment of a joint and cause premature wear and tear.
If this altered alignment is left untreated, it can destroy the natural design of a joint and increase degeneration. The compressed nerve fibers will switch on pain alerts, alarms and alter normal sensations. The broken pain signals will be oppressive and unrelenting as would happen after shingles. Altered sensory fibers will cause a slight pressure to be interpreted as scalding hot or burning. Compressed arteries will choke off nourishment to limbs, leading to cold fingers and toes. Compressed veins that bring blood back to the heart will cause swelling. Myofascial disease leads to fear, anxiety, insomnia and even suicide.
Myofascial pain will masquerade as a number of maladies that can delay therapy for weeks, months and even years. The trigger points will grow in number and spread to others areas of the body.
The Therapy: The technique to relieve this stressed muscle tissues is called myofascial release therapy (MRT) and is focused on the trigger points that develop in muscles. MRT is already in use today in regular physical therapy, massage therapy, yoga, sports medicine and in chiropractic medicine. When used correctly, MRT can begin the healing process for patients with complex muscle and skeletal pain issues.
Some myofascial trigger points cannot be effectively released just with stretching and massage. The muscles require an electrical depolarization using an acupuncture needle or a sharp tipped hypodermic needle.
I imagine myofascial tissue as different grades of beef, from filet mignon to a tough leathery hunk of meat. Take a sewing needle, push it through the filet and it goes in easily. Now try to push a sewing needle through a leather belt. It will bend and stick in the dense leather fibers. But if you take a needle with a knife like tip then you can penetrate the belt.
Acupuncture is the most powerful therapy I know of in medicine. It can treat most arthritic pain issues, revitalize degenerating joints, correct misalignments, lower the need for medication, decrease the need for surgery and help contain the rising cost of health care. All with very few side effects.
The ancients incorporated a way of life within a way of health and wellness.
Stephen S. Rodrigues, MD, is a family practice physician in Dallas, Texas. He is a graduate of Howard University School of Medicine and interned at Howard University Hospital and D.C. General Hospital. He is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and studied acupuncture at the Helms Institute of Acupuncture.
Dr. Rodrigues’ website can be found here.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.