Trigger point therapy and Acupuncture

Trigger point therapy involves inserting a needle into a particular point on a muscle to stimulate the nerves and help relieve patients’ pain. Sounds like acupuncture, doesn’t it? The relationship between trigger point therapy and acupuncture can be confusing for patients.

Trigger point therapy, which is also sometimes called myofascial pain therapy, was developed as a method of treating pain that originates in muscles. Trigger points are areas of hypersensitivity that occur in bands of muscle tissue. These tender areas appear in consistent patterns and have been mapped and studied and proven through modern science to exist. There are three types of trigger points:

  • Active – An active trigger point is one that is painful, even when the patient is at rest.
  • Latent – A patient may not realize that a latent trigger point hurts, until someone finds it and touches it. Latent trigger points often refer pain to other areas of the body. The points of referral have been mapped as well, so someone well-versed in trigger points will know where to look for a latent trigger point based on where the pain is occurring.
  • Satellite – Trigger points act as a web in some ways. A latent trigger point may be referring pain to another area of the body, causing an active trigger point to develop there. The active trigger point, in turn, could be referring pain to a third area which is known as a satellite trigger point.

A few decades ago, medical practitioners discovered that myofascial pain could be treated by inserting a needle and injecting various fluids into the muscle. The type of fluid varied depending on the doctor, the pain being treated and other factors. Corticosteroids, saline and magnesium sulfate, among others, have been commonly injected as a part of myofascial pain therapy.

Researchers then discovered that the same pain relief could be attained without the injection and a practice known as dry needling was born. While trigger point therapy and acupuncture are not the same thing, you can see how closely related they are.

Researchers have created “maps” of the body that show where trigger points occur and also where they refer pain, and of course, acupuncture points have been mapped for many generations. There is a substantial overlap between the two, yet there are some differences.

Acupuncture is a far older and more developed method of treatment than myofascial pain therapy. The word “myofascial” refers to muscles and the bands of tissues surrounding and separating muscles, and trigger point therapy is used only to treat pain originating from those tissues. Acupuncture, on the other hand, is used to successfully treat muscle pain and a host of other, often more complex, conditions.

For those who feel that the ancient and clearly successful use of acupuncture must be somehow sanctioned or approved by Western science, the development of trigger point therapy does exactly that in cases of myofascial pain. There are many other conditions that have also been shown through various studies to respond to acupuncture but trigger point therapy is unique in that Western medicine developed a treatment that so closely resembles acupuncture but gave it a different name.

People who suffer from myofascial pain usually do not care what the treatment that brings relief is called. They care about being pain-free and healthy. Regardless of whether you are receiving acupuncture, dry needling, trigger point therapy or myofascial pain therapy, as long as your practitioner is properly trained and your body is responding to the treatment, the name is unimportant.

reprint from The Wellness Tree – Wayne Stephens, L.Ac, LMT

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