BOTTOM LINE: Strengthening didn't help, sometimes made me worse; TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) had nominal positive effect.
When I was first experiencing acute nerve pain from my ruptured disc, the doctor sent me for physical therapy (PT)—it's what the medical insurance company required before they'd cover other tests or treatment. I was in excruciating pain and could barely hold my head up. The physical therapist told me I was “too acute” to attempt strengthening or range-of-motion exercises. She treated me with ultrasound and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and hoped I'd come back the next time less acute. However, my pain did not abate. My doctor finally ordered an MRI, which revealed a ruptured disc.
After I had neck surgery to remove two discs and fuse three vertebrae, I still was experiencing debilitating pain. My doctor sent me for PT again. The strengthening exercises I was given only exacerbated my pain symptoms. I continued for a month, took a break for a couple months, and then tried it again for a few months. The traditional PT did nothing to help my symptoms and often flared them up.
The physical therapist also gave me my own personal TENS unit, which is a small portable device that clips onto your belt and has wires with electrodes at the end that adhere to your skin. You place the electrodes on painful areas on your body and the unit sends electrical stimulation to the muscles to try to divert attention from the body's pain signals or suppress those pain signals. While the TENS unit gave me a small amount of temporary relief when I was wearing it (you're not supposed to wear it constantly), it did not have a long-term healing effect.
Traditional PT did not result in a lasting reduction of my myofascial pain.
Described below is one of the many approaches I've tried or considered trying for healing my chronic myofascial pain: