Frequency-Specific Microcurrent as Adjunctive Therapy for Three Wounded Warriors

Frequency-Specific Microcurrent as Adjunctive Therapy for Three Wounded Warriors

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Stephen J. Sharp, MD, MS, Mylene T. Huynh, MD, MPH, and Rosemarie Filart, MD, MPH

ABSTRACT

Background: Acupuncture is frequently offered for wounded warriors as a component of an integrated

approach to pain and associated symptoms, with increasing availability at military treatment facilities and

Veterans Administration hospitals. While medications can be effective for many patients, acupuncture and

microcurrent therapies address the growing need to offer nonopiate, nonpharmaceutical therapeutics in integrative

pain management. Frequency-specific microcurrent (FSM) is a newer, adjustable, microcurrent, electrical

stimulation modality with applications for pain and other associated symptoms. Using low amperage,

electrical current delivered transcutaneously affects and repairs tissues at the cellular level. Additionally,

concomitant treatment with acupuncture is possible, which is particularly helpful when space and time limit the

frequency with which acupuncture treatments can be provided.

Cases: For 3 wounded warriors, FSM was combined with acupuncture treatments, resulting in more-rapid

reduction of their pain and associated symptoms; including memory problems, mental sluggishness, and posttraumatic

stress disorder.

Results: FSM was found to be a safe, nonpainful, noninvasive treatment that could be administered concurrently

and beneficially with acupuncture.

Conclusions: While additional, more-rigorous studies are needed, this case series demonstrates the potential

that FSM has within an integrated pain treatment program for wounded warriors.

Keywords: military acupuncture, energy medicine, frequency-specific microcurrent, wounded warrior

INTRODUCTION

Acupuncture is an increasingly important part of

an integrated approach in the treatment of pain in the

U.S. military wounded-warrior population. Acupuncture is

offered at an expanding number of military treatment facilities

(MTFs) and Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals.

1 However, many MTF and VA patients have additional

symptoms and complex pain presentations. Therefore, in

addition to medications, interventional procedures, and surgical

options, awounded-warrior integrated pain-management

program may also include a combination of techniques, such

as acupuncture, electrical stimulation, yoga, mind–body exercises,

chiropractic care, rehabilitation therapies, behavioral

health management, preventative and therapeutic physical

activities, nutrition, and lifestyle modifications evaluations.2,3

While acupuncture alone is helpful for many patients, its optimal

use often requires a frequency of treatments exceeding

the ability of many providers and facilities to accommodate.

Frequency-specific microcurrent (FSM) treatment is

performed with a microcurrent device that is unique in its

adjustability to different tissues, using low-amperage frequencies

that can modulate pain as well as other associated

symptoms.4–7 FSM treatment is based on the biology of

Pain Clinic, Department of Anesthesia, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Bethesda, MD.

The views expressed are the private views of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. government, the

U.S. Department of Defense or the United States Military.

MEDICAL ACUPUNCTURE

Volume 31, Number 3, 2019

# Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

DOI: 10.1089/acu.2019.1366

189

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resonance and electrical signaling of cells.7–11 Unfortunately,

there is limited clinical research on FSMto date, especially in

conjunction with other integrative therapies such as acupuncture.

This article presents 3 cases in which FSM was

applied concurrently with acupuncture and was found to reduce

symptoms, resulting in fewer visits, compared to acupuncture

alone. This case series also demonstrates the range

of conditions for which FSM may be a safe, valuable adjunctive

therapy.

CASES

Case 1

A 40-year-old active duty physician presented with progressive

back, hip, and leg pain that was interfering with her

regular physical activity and ability to take required physicalassessment

tests. For example, running was very painful and,

therefore, she had activity limitations. This patient reported

that, although acupuncture treatments were helpful, she

continued to have problems with returning to full regular

exercise. FSMwas added into her acupuncture sessions, using

an FSM myofascial, trigger-point (MFTP) program.

After 2 combined FSM and acupuncture treatments, she

began to run again without significant pain for the first time in

several years. With additional treatments, she noted an effect

like ‘‘peeling an onion,’’ wherein previous known areas of

pain and injury improved in a reverse order from the date of

the trauma. Although she had reductions in her pain, she additionally

reported having mental sluggishness and difficulty

with memory that seemed to relate to receiving the anthrax

vaccine many years prior. For those symptoms, FSM was

applied alternating between the FSM Concussion and FSM

Brain Fog programs. After 2 treatments, she reported an improvement

and then, after an additional 2–3 treatments, she

reported her memory had returned to her baseline pre-vaccine

state. Occasional subsequent pain flares were addressed with

further combinations of FSM and acupuncture.

Case 2

A 35-year-old male presented to the pain clinic with

symptoms stemming from several deployments, with multiple

hard landings as a paratrooper, concussion from an

improvised explosive device blast, and C-5–C-6 dislocation

and fracture without neurologic sequelae. He reported

multiple areas of pain, especially in his back and neck,

migraine headaches, thinking and memory problems, and

other post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Due

to this patient’s complex symptom presentation, he was

started on a combination of FSM and acupuncture as an

initial integrated pain approach. At the first treatment, the

FSM Concussion program was applied along with acupuncture

for his neck and back pain.

His chronic headache resolved almost completely after

that first treatment. After the second treatment, his neck and

back began to improve, and a second FSM program, for

PTSD, was initiated. This resulted in the patient reporting

clearer thinking and improved memory for 3–5 days. Continued

treatments resulted in similar improvements of longer

durations and increasing effectiveness. The subsequent

FSM treatments included 1 or 2 of the Concussion, PTSD,

and Brain Fog programs running concurrently or serially per

session. He subsequently underwent a cervical spinal fusion

and was lost to follow-up when he was transferred to a

different geographic location for inpatient rehabilitation.

Case 3

A 32-year-old male presented to the pain clinic with

symptoms of diffuse areas of pain including his neck, back,

and abdomen. He also reported having mental sluggishness

and a brain-fog feeling.He disclosed that he self-administered

multiple supplements in the past, including several that were

reported to have hormone-like effects, which were postulated

as contributing to his symptoms. Following initial treatments

with acupuncture, he reported improvements in pain reduction.

However, his mental sluggishness and brain-fog symptoms

persisted. Consequently, he received FSMin addition to

acupuncture treatments in a dual FSM combination of the

Concussion and Brain Fog programs.

After only a couple of sessions, this patient reported

further reductions in his pain, mental sluggishness, and

brain-fog symptoms. However, while he reported continued

symptom reduction, his ongoing chronic severe behavioralhealth

issues complicated his course. Eventually, he required

transfer to another facility for behavioral-health

management, halting this MTF’s integrated pain program

for him; this patient was then lost to follow-up.

RESULTS

FSMresulted in reduction of pain as well as resolving brain

fog, memory, and headaches in these 3 wounded warriors.

DISCUSSION

FSM is a newer, adjustable, microcurrent, electrical

stimulation modality with applications for pain and other associated

symptoms. FSM is applied through an electronic device

like a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

unit and falls under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

category of TENS devices. Yet, unlike TENS, FSM delivers a

nondiscernable microcurrent that is not intended to trigger

muscle contractions or pain. More importantly, FSM delivers

a frequency that is tailored to specific tissues, as well as

the injury/disorders specific to those tissue.4–7 While an

190 SHARP ET AL.

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indepth discussion of how FSM works is beyond the scope of

this article, quantum physics has taught scientists that like atoms,

molecules and tissues vibrate at determined resonant

frequencies.9,10 When a molecule/cell/tissue is sick or injured,

there is a change from its basic resonant frequency.9,10 If the

frequency is reset to the baseline resonant frequency, the cells

and tissues heal more easily and more quickly.4–7,9–11

Like acupuncture, FSM can be tailored to the specific

conditions being treated, thereby providing an individualcentered

treatment. In this case series, several programs

were applied for a range of pain-associated symptoms. The

preinstalled MFTP program was designed for a broad range

of muscle- and fascia-related problems. Other, morespecific

pain FSM programs are often needed when pain

stems from bone, ligament, or nerve injuries, but the MTFP

program often provides a reasonable starting point. Given

that many chronic-pain issues are now postulated to be

fascial-related, the MFTP program was the initial program

used for these 3 patients’ treatments.

Additionally, because it is now widely believed that acupuncture

channels travel in fascial or extracellular-matrix layers,

the present authors hypothesized that these treatments

provided a synergistic effect between acupuncture and FSM.

The second program applied was the Concussion program.

While this program is useful for concussions/mild traumatic

brain injury, as the name suggests, FSM developers have reported

its additional usefulness for addressing emotional, psychologic,

and/or spiritual—as well as physical—traumata. It

appears to function as a ‘‘brain reset’’method that is helpful for

patients with a wide range of pain issues and other conditions.

The third program mentioned was the Brain Fog protocol,

which targets the memory and attention issues that are frequently

seen in wounded-warrior patients—again, stemming

from physical and/or emotional causes. The PTSD

program was applied in the second case. While anecdotal

evidence has reported efficacy of the PTSD program, its 2-

hour duration creates a clinic flow- and time-efficiency

challenge, making it impractical for most routine clinic

sessions. A shorter version of the program is being developed

to address the efficiency challenge.

Musculoskeletal pain stemming from a variety of causes

is seen frequently—whether due to an acute in-theater injury;

wear-and-tear injuries such as occurs in paratroopers

or from walking around the desert with a backpack; ubiquitous

sports injuries; or the most-common ‘‘I don’t know

what caused it’’ injury. The ability to add a peeling-theonion

effect—that is, to delineate the pain sources better—is

an added benefit of FSM as an adjunct to acupuncture

treatment. Recent studies suggest that recurring injuries to

the fascia layer could predispose patients to chronic-pain

problems. Thus, it is important that the ability of FSM to

help isolate and repair chronic fascial injuries appears to aid

in long-term integrated pain treatment.4–7

The mental sluggishness and memory deficits related to

the anthrax vaccine are not commonly reported problems

and, consequently, studies regarding its treatment are lacking.

While a single case remains anecdotal, the potential of

FSM to add a treatment benefit in a patient with symptoms

related to the anthrax vaccine deserves consideration when

treating any patient who might have this problem. This is

especially significant given that there has been no reports of

FSM increasing the risk of adverse effects in these patients.

Moreover, another benefit of FSM treatment is its easy and

safe application for the behavioral health and neurologic

issues often associated with pain. The FSM Brain Fog

program seemed the most relevant in this case, with the

Concussion program as an optional alternative.

The second case was complicated by PTSD and traumatic

brain injury in addition to the patient’s physical injuries.

The third case also involved PTSD, but this was not directly

related to a physical injury or concussion. To address the

practical clinic-flow efficiency challenge, the FSM Concussion

and Brain Fog programs, which run for 25 minutes

each, provide the ease-of-fit within the acupuncture clinic

session time-frame, which, in this MTF facility, is typically

30 minutes. In these 2 cases, the use of FSM treatment with

the Concussion/reset program followed by alternating

treatments with other indicated FSM programs, appeared to

accelerate the recovery process.

The present authors acknowledge limitations in delineating

the specific effect of any given FSM treatment in

this case series. One limitation was that the patients received

treatments within the rubric of an integrated, multidisciplinary,

multimodal pain program, thereby making it

difficult to separate the effect of one treatment from the

integrated program. A second limitation was that 2 patients

(cases 2 and 3) had received care within an integrated pain

program for a variable time frame before receiving FSM

treatments. A third limitation is the number of clinic visits

with FSM treatments were limited by the patients being

discharged from care and lost to follow-up. Nevertheless,

even with these limitations, the treated wounded warriors

reported that, with the addition of FSM, they had noticeable

changes during those sessions.

CONCLUSIONS

At present, while FSM has potentially wide applications

for addressing a range of pain disorders and related conditions,

with increasing clinical usage, current literature on

clinical experience has been mostly case reports, such as

with this case series.7–10 Some randomized controlled trials

are planned or in progress; however, much more is needed.

From this small case series, the present authors conclude

that there is an added treatment benefit of symptom reduction

following the combination of FSM and acupuncture

treatment for wounded warriors, to address their pain,

PTSD, and other associated conditions. It is hoped these

case reports will provide a stimulus for further research

FSM AND ACUPUNCTURE 191

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using FSM as an adjunct to acupuncture treatment and as

part of an integrated pain-management program for wounded

warriors.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Special thanks to Carolyn McMakin, DC, who provided

the impetus for us to learn FSM and to publish these cases.

AUTHOR DISCLOSURE STATEMENT

No competing financial interests exist.

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Address correspondence to:

Stephen Sharp, MD

Pain Clinic

Department of Anesthesia

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

8901 Wisconsin Avenue

Bethesda, MD 20889

E-mail: stephen.j.sharp2.ctr@mail.mil

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