Fibromyalgia is a chronic conditions that causes widespread pain in the body. It is accompanied by increased pain sensitivity, extreme tiredness, muscle stiffness, sleep difficulties, headaches, functional impairment e.g. memory and concentration (known as “fibro-fog”) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The cause of fibromyalgia is not well understood, but genetic, automimmune factors, traumatic events and stress are contributory. Treatment is limited to improving function using pain medication, antidepressants and antiepileptic, supported by physical and talk therapy.
Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, acupuncture can provide respite from symptoms. One study found that 1 in 5 people suffering with fibromyalgia use acupuncture within a period of 2 years after diagnosis. The WHO recommend acupuncture for treating fibromyalgia but conclude that more research is needed.
Pain intensity was noticeably reduced after 10 weeks using tailored acupuncture treatments at weekly intervals in a multicentre trial conducted in three primary care centres. Participants were randomly assigned to real acupuncture or placebo, whilst continuing their medical management. A total of 153 participants completed the study. The acupuncture group reported a 41% reduction in pain, compared to 27% in the placebo group. The effects were still apparent at the end of 12 months, reporting 20% and 6% reduction respectively. Other measures of anxiety, fatigue and depression were also significantly reduced at 10 weeks.
A review of multiple small studies concluded that acupuncture was safe to use for fibromylgia. Electro acupuncture was more effective than manual acupuncture for pain and stiffness, well-being, sleep and fatigue. Effects lasted up to one month.
Acupuncture is well knows to be effective in reducing many types of chronic pain, including arthritic, rheumatic, headaches. It releases feel-good natural pain killers in our body called endorphins. These same chemicals are also released after orgasm, thus leave us with a relaxed warm afterglow. Its ability to modify pain, reduce stress and enhance well being is ideal to tackle these fibromyalgia symptoms. The insertion and twisting needle action also release adenosine, an anti-inflammatory chemical that lingers for up to an hour after the treatment.
It is unsurprising therefore that many people with fibromyalgia would be interested in trying acupuncture. A Personal story from one sufferer shows how acupuncture can help change lives. Despite the mixed results from studies, most suggest that it may have a beneficial role in treating fibromyalgia, which can be used without anxiety about its safety. It can be used on its own for symptom management, but often advocated in addition to other exercise or physical program.