The Science and Strategies for Managing Muscle Pain

Dialogues - Webpost - Managing Muscle Pain - post-event

On 10 May 2024, The HEAD Foundation hosted a Dialogue titled “The Science and Strategies for Managing Muscle Pain.” The event explored the challenges and potential solutions for pain measurement and the holistic approach of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to pain management.

Measuring Pain Objectively

Despite lacking quantitative methods, recent advancements like Magnetic Resonance Elastography (MRE) offer hope for objective pain assessment and improved relief strategies. Dr Ziying Yin, Associate Consultant, Division of Medical Physics, Department of Radiology, Mayo Clinic, discussed the challenges in measuring pain and the growing interest and funding for research in this area.

Dr Yin introduced MRE as a state-of-the-art, non-invasive imaging technique using MRI to visualise the mechanical properties of tissues. MRE measures the response of tissues to vibrations, providing insights into tissue stiffness and mobility. Traditionally, pain measurement has been subjective, relying on patient self-reporting. MRE offers a way to quantify tissue changes that may correlate with pain levels and objectively evaluate the effects of treatments on musculoskeletal disorders, a prevalent concern globally. Healthy fascia allows for smooth gliding between muscle layers, which is essential for painless movement. MRE can detect changes in this mobility, which may indicate areas of pain or dysfunction.

Dr Yin described her ongoing clinical study supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study uses MRE to evaluate the correlations between myofascial plane mobility and pain levels in patients with chronic lower back pain. The research also compares MRE images of patients’ muscle and fascia interfaces before and after treatment to assess the efficacy of the treatment being evaluated. This technology has the potential not only to measure the effectiveness of pain treatments like Tuina but also to guide therapeutic interventions by providing real-time feedback on tissue health.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Approach

Professor Linda Zhong, Director of Biomedical Sciences and Chinese Medicine at the School of Biological Sciences of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), then discussed TCM solutions for pain management, including herbal medicine, acupuncture, Tuina, and dietary therapy. She emphasised the importance of a holistic approach and individualised treatment plans.

Acupuncture is highlighted as a TCM technique that has been widely accepted in mainstream healthcare globally. Tuina is further introduced as a form of non-invasive manual therapy distinct from Western massage, involving force-based manipulation (FBM) techniques like kneading, rolling, and pressing, with a focus on specific acupoints and meridians in the body. Exercises like tai chi and qigong were also mentioned, as was their role in improving energy, circulation, and muscle health.

Prof Zhong acknowledged the need for better communication and integration between TCM and Western medical practices. The speakers explored the potential for integrating traditional practices with modern technology and the importance of clinical studies to systematically validate treatments’ effectiveness. There is also a vision for making treatments more accessible and affordable through innovative technology and proper training.

Overall, Dr Yin’s MRE presentation and Prof Zhong’s TCM perspectives, together with the Q&A exchanges among the speakers and the audience during the Dialogue, underscored the MRE technique’s emerging role as an objective diagnostic tool in pain management, particularly in conjunction with non-invasive TCM treatments like Tuina. The technology brings a new level of precision and quantification to a domain that historically relied on subjective patient assessments.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the speakers in this webinar are their own and do not represent the opinions of The HEAD Foundation.

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