Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by pain in the connective tissues – muscles, ligaments and tendons – of the body. People with Fibromyalgia typically say that they ‘ache all over’. Other symptoms can vary considerably from person to person, but may include:
- Sleep disturbance
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Sensitivity to other stimuli like certain foods or bright light
- Impaired concentration and memory loss
- Digestive problems
- Anxiety and depression.
Western medicine has yet to identify a cause for Fibromyalgia, and conventional treatment varies depending on the symptoms but may include various painkilling drugs and antidepressants. Many Fibromyalgia sufferers turn to alternative medicine to help manage their condition.
Fibromyalgia and TCM
Pain arises when something is obstructing the free flow of Qi in the meridians; in the Fibromyalgia patient this is clearly happening in many of the channels of the body. The first thing the TCM practitioner will want to find out therefore, is what is obstructing the Qi. In many patients with Fibromyalgia, the answer to this question will often involve what TCM refers to as the pathogenic factor of Dampness. In TCM Dampness can impede the flow of Qi, causing generalized aching, a feeling of heaviness, as well as dull headaches and fatigue. It is as if there is a build up of thick fluid in the muscles which prevent the free flow of energy. Such a patient will typically wake feeling heavy and exhausted even after a good night’s sleep, and their condition may be worse in wet weather. Dampness can invade the body from outside, for example if the patient lives in a damp climate such as we have in the UK; or it can be internally generated.
In the latter case this will be due to a malfunctioning digestive system and/or the consumption of foods that typically lead to Damp accumulating in the body. In such a case as this, treatment will involve clearing the Dampness with acupuncture and, perhaps, herbal therapy, in conjunction with changes in the patient’s diet so that foods which lead to Dampness are minimized.
However, Dampness is not the only pathogen which can block the free flow of Qi in the body, and the practitioner may identify other such factors and adjust treatment accordingly.
In Fibromyalgia however, this is usually not the whole story. As well as pathogenic factors obstructing the flow of Qi, there is usually some kind of underlying deficiency of the Qi. So as well as unblocking the free flow of the Qi, TCM treatment will also aim to make good this deficiency, again using acupuncture and herbal therapy in conjunction with dietary adjustments and appropriate exercise.
Is Acupuncture Helpful for Fibromyalgia?
The 2003 World Health Organisation1 report on the efficacy of acupuncture concludes that acupuncture has been shown to have a therapeutic effect for Fibromyalgia.
Following on from this, a clinical trial performed by scientists from the Mayo Clinic in 2005 found that acupuncture improved Fibromyalgia symptoms, especially pain, fatigue and anxiety.2
1 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials
2 Martin, D. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, June 2006; vol 81: pp 749-757.
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