NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Though developed far apart in space and time, acupuncture and myofascial trigger point therapy are strikingly similar in principle, according to a new study.

Both acupuncture, an ancient Chinese practice, and trigger point therapy, a more modern Western-based approach, focus on stimulating specific points on the body to treat pain.

But the new study indicates that the two therapies plot the vast majority of those therapeutic points to the same location in the body. What’s more, most of the points are used to address the same type of pain, according to researcher Dr. Peter Dorsher, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

“This may come as a surprise to those who perform the two different techniques, because the notion has been that these are exclusive therapies separated by thousands of years,” Dorsher said in a statement.

“But this study shows that in the treatment of pain disorders, acupuncture and myofascial techniques are fundamentally similar — and this is good news for anyone looking for relief.”

Dorsher reports his findings in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years in Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. It is based on the principle that specific acupuncture points on the skin are connected to internal pathways (meridians) that conduct energy, or qi (“chee”), and stimulating these points with a fine needle promotes the healthy flow of qi.

The principles of myofascial trigger point therapy began to take shape in the West in the 1800s, and evolved in the 20th century into its current form. It is based on the concept that the muscles and connective tissue covering them — the fascia — have specific hyper-irritable areas, or trigger points, that produce pain in the immediate area or elsewhere in the body (called referred pain).

Physical therapists, chiropractors and other practitioners use various methods to relieve pain at these trigger points, including massage, deep pressure, electrical stimulation and stretching.

There are 361 classical acupuncture points, and 255 trigger points in myofascial pain therapy. According to Dorsher, at least 92 percent of these trigger points correspond anatomically with acupuncture points, and their “clinical correspondence” is greater than 95 percent.

“That means that the classical acupoint was in the same body region as the trigger point, was used for the same type of pain problem, and the trigger point referred pain pattern followed the meridian pathway of that acupoint described by the Chinese more than 2,000 years before,” Dorsher explained.

It’s likely, according to Dorsher, that the common thread between the two therapies is their effects on the nervous system, which transmits pain signals.

“I think it is fair to say that the myofascial pain tradition represents an independent rediscovery of the healing principles of traditional Chinese medicine,” he said.

SOURCE: Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, May 10, 2008.