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Western-trained doctors have reluctantly come to agree over the past 30 to 40 years that acupuncture really works, but scientists are only now beginning to understand why.

One of the best examples of the power of acupuncture to "channel" energy is the use of acupuncture in treating a condition known as myofascial pain syndrome. This condition is a bewildering ailment often experienced by otherwise healthy people who get lots of exercise.

Pressure on one muscle can cause excruciating pain in another, sometimes at considerable distance in the body. Doctors used to think that the condition was factitious, that people who complained of myofascial pain syndrome were really deluded or malingering, but a more sophisticated understanding of the fascia, the thin connective sheets that hold muscles together so they can move in harmony, has made this common condition far more credible to the medical profession. 

About 30% of sports injuries are now known to result in myofascial pain syndrome.

As you might imagine, it's not easy to diagnose a tear or injury to a muscle when they cause pain somewhere else in the body. The pain relief spray has to be applied to the site of injury, not the site of pain. Doctors frequently treat myofascial pain with trans-cutaneous electroneural stimulation (TENS), muscle stretching exercises, post-isometric relaxation (stretch and relax exercises), high-voltage galvanic stimulation, biofeedback, injected steroids, injected pain relievers, and systemic pain relief drugs like Vicodin (hydrocodone). 

But the most frequent recommendation for myofascial pain syndrome is watchful waiting. If the doctor can persuade the patient to wait out the pain long enough, the disease often just goes away. This usually takes about two weeks.

Acupuncture for Instant Relief

Acupuncture offers an effective alternative treatment for myofascial pain syndrome. If the needles are placed correctly, pain may be resolved in just minutes with no medications at all. But how do practitioners know where to place the needles?

It turns out that acupuncture relieves this kind of pain by deactivating all the "pain circuits" controlled by the spine at the same time. Once the acupuncturist has applied enough pressure with a needle on a "pain Meridian" to elicit a muscle twitch, the brain says "enough already" and "turns off" pain circuits all over the body. Just as pain seems to flow from one place to another in the body, "energy" also travels from one place to another in the body, and the net result is a re-balancing of energies that turn off pain without drugs or extensive physical therapy.

Answers Waiting to Be Discovered

Of course, it's still a stretch to explain how putting needles in acupuncture points could stimulate ovulation in women seeking to become mothers, or tone down the immune system to prevent allergies or allergic rashes, or even offset the nerve damage caused by diabetes. But the primo vascular channels may be at work in these applications of acupuncture, too, waiting to be discovered by research.

  • Jun X, Murray F. Magic Needles: Feel Younger and Live Longer with Acupuncture. Basic Health Publications, 2011. Park ES, Kim HY, Youn DH. The primo vascular structures alongside nervous system: its discovery and functional limitation. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013. 2013:538350. doi: 10.1155/2013/538350. Epub 2013 Mar 31. PMID: 23606882.
  • Stefanov M, Kim J. Primo vascular system as a new morphofunctional integrated system. J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2012 Oct. 5(5):193-200. doi: 10.1016/j.jams.2012.07.001. Epub 2012 Aug 14.
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