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Interview with Dr. Carolyn McMakin, pioneer of unique fibromyalgia (FM) treatment

  [ 258 votes ]   [ 3 Comments ]
By John W. Addington • • August 3, 2001

Carolyn McMakin, D.C., an Oregon chiropractor, and her associates, have pioneered a new treatment that reports lasting relief from fibromyalgia symptoms. The treatment entails application of small amounts of electricity to tissue trigger points. A previous ImmuneSupport article Relief of Fibromyalgia Through Microcurrent Therapy (see email bulletin archive of 7-11-01) detailed the success McMakin has had using this therapy on her myofascial and fibromyalgia patients. The following interview with Dr. McMakin provides further insight into her care and practice. What exactly do patients feel when receiving microcurrent therapy?

Dr. McMakin: The electrical current involved in microcurrent therapy is so low that it cannot be felt. The patients do feel the gentle touch of the practitioner's hands, through the graphite gloves, applying the therapy to various trigger points. While patients cannot feel the microcurrent itself, they often enjoy a sensation of warmth, obvious diminished pain and more relaxed tissue and muscles often from the very first application. You say your treatment varies according to the "kind" of fibromyalgia a person has. How long does it take you to determine what kind of fibromyalgia a patient has and begin treating accordingly?

Dr. McMakin: Between the physical and history, this is usually determined during the first visit. Since the microcurrent therapy varies according to each kind of fibromyalgia and yields immediate results, a lack of relief itself can reveal an inaccurate initial assessment. Further questioning and treatment are done until the correct determination is reached, as made obvious from the improvements felt. What success rate have you had with microcurrent for conditions other than Fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome?

Dr. McMakin: We have had success with a wide range of conditions but since we are primarily a pain clinic we see more cases of pain. We have used microcurrent to treat prostate and vaginal problems, irritable bowel, Crohn's disease, liver dysfunction, carpal tunnel, asthma, adrenal exhaustion, interstitial cystitis and more. We always use and recommend microcurrent as an adjunct to appropriate medical, naturopathic or chiropractic treatment of these conditions. Most patients do not want to continue investing time or money in treatment that has little hope of relieving their symptoms. How long must patients persist with microcurrent therapy before they know whether it will benefit for them?

Dr. McMakin: Microcurrent therapy is like taking $500 to Las Vegas. It can't hurt, might help and you will know by the end of the evening whether you hit the jackpot. To be perfectly honest, you won't usually be finished with care but you will definitely know by the end of the third treatment whether this treatment is going to work for you. How many treatments are needed before a patient is well?

Dr. McMakin: Some patients have recovered with as little as 4 treatments. For others dramatic recovery is seen within 6 months with little to no further treatment needed. At a maximum a minority of patients have required up to 30 treatments over a two year period but improvement is obvious with every visit. Often patients recover from the initial complaint and then return for more visits to treat additional problems. Some out-of-state patient may want to concentrate the needed treatments in a shorter amount of time. Is that possible or will the treatments lose their effect if they are done at shorter intervals?

Dr. McMakin: Patients from out of state are seen every day or every other day for up to two weeks. In general they do better if they have a day between treatments to integrate the effects of the treatment and to get over any detoxification reactions. The treatments seem to be as effective but it is always nice to send patients to a microcurrent practitioner near their home. Do the improvements, which blood tests indicate result from microcurrent therapy, persist?

Dr. McMakin: The blood samples we obtained on five patients from consecutive visits showed that each sample started out lower in inflammatory interleukins and substance P (responsible for pain transmission) than the one before. This, along with the clinical results as measured by pain scales and disability scores, demonstrates that our treatment can bring lasting benefit. We always aim for a lasting outcome with minimal follow-up or maintenance care. Which patients need home units to self-administer the microcurrent therapy? Must they buy the unit for this purpose?

Dr. McMakin: Usually only patients with fibromyalgia associated with neck trauma require the added use of the lightweight pocket-sized, battery operated unit with its 2" x 3" conducting pads. The unit may need to be worn 12 to 24 hours initially but after two months most patients reduce the time to only several hours once or twice a week. Patients usually buy the unit because of the uncertainty in knowing how long they will need it; there is security in knowing that they can use it as long as they need it to provide pain relief. How does electroacupuncture differ from microcurrent therapy?

Dr. McMakin: Electroacupuncture involves passing current through needles placed in acupuncture points. The machine I use for microcurrent therapy can be used to stimulate acupuncture points by passing current through moistened cotton-tipped probes attached to the instrument. This can have an effect similar to acupuncture needles on the energy meridians within the body.

I don't use acupuncture treatment for trigger points or fibromyalgia very often. I apply microcurrent to trigger points using graphite vinyl gloves to release contracted muscles by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to the tissue. I believe microcurrent therapy works more consistently and has a longer duration of benefit than electro-acupuncture. In fact, very few of my patients need further microcurrent therapy once they are well. What are your costs? Does insurance cover the care you provide?

Dr. McMakin: Depending on what is required for the patient my initial evaluation and treatment costs are between $150 to $250. Follow-up visits are from $96 to $121. Food allergy testing, which can cost $300-$400, and supplements are extra. If your insurer or HMO covers chiropractic care, then it will normally cover a portion of my care. Do you encourage the use of vitamin or herbal supplements?

Dr. McMakin: Yes, I have found supplementation is vital for recovery. Microcurrent boosts the patient to a new state of health. We use supplements to maintain or support that state and help the results to be more lasting. Depending on the needs of each patient I may recommend antioxidants and supplements aimed as detoxification, 5-HTP and Kava Kava for stress and sleeping difficulties and a combination of Magnesium, Manganese, Malic Acid and B-6 for pain. What dietary recommendations do you make?

Dr. McMakin: We have observed that patients who remove from their diet foods to which they are allergic, have significant improvement. To determine which foods you may be allergic to we recommend blood allergy testing done at reliable labs. The lab processes the samples and returns the results and comprehensive diet recommendations in about 10 days. After remaining off the problem foods for a time many can be re-introduced on a rotation basis.

Aside from avoiding food allergies, I recommend increasing water intake to 2 quarts per day and that my patients eat plenty of vegetables, protein and fruits. What kind of exercise to you recommend?

Dr. McMakin: We recommend that patients begin exercising as tolerated. If they tolerate five minutes a day, we start there and increase as much as possible gradually. The best exercise seems to be warm water exercise, either swimming or just paddling around as vigorously as tolerated. Walking is excellent in the absence of a warm water pool. Do all the sensible things advised in the FMS self-help information; avoid repetitive upper body exercise and heavy weights. Gentle aerobic conditioning as tolerated seems to be most beneficial. Be consistent. Exercise three to five days a week doing something.

Dr. McMakin can be contacted at the Fibromyalgia and Myofascial Pain Clinic in Portland, Oregon at (503) 762-0805 or go to

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Article Comments Post a Comment

it didn't work for me
Posted by: moineau
Jun 29, 2009
i spent about a month receiving these treatments in portland, also receiving massages from dr. mcmaken's masseuse and taking minerals which i bought from the clinic. it was relaxing at the time of the treatment but i had no reduction in pain after a month, and the treatments were not covered by my local hmo. i expressed my dismay in the treatments and was told by dr. mcmakin that it was my attitude that was keeping me from getting better. i never returned. ~laura t, astoria, oregon
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Posted by: CherylMartin3
Feb 20, 2010
I came to see Dr. McMakin from Nampa, ID, for treatment of RSD pain. It was very effective and changed the course of my pain management. I had tried many treatments and hers was the most effective. I am now recommending my son's friend go see her. CHERYL, Nampa, Idaho
Reply Reply

Seems like it may be productive of long term healing. FM TREATMENT
Posted by: cyberpjd
Aug 21, 2014
May be helpful to supplement treatments with linaments (lotions) containing camphor, etc. over the counter stuff like mentholatum. They can give an adjunct boost. Lots of different ones at the major drug stores, try several if you have a helper to apply as needed in hard to reach areas. Not a substitute for professional help though.
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