Acupuncture is An Effective Treatment for Fibromyalgia Syndrome
Fibromyalgia syndrome is a disorder commonly associated with pain. However, many other symptoms that accompany it include digestive discomfort, difficulty with sleep, neurological problems, high levels of stress, and fatigue. As a “disease of exclusion,” other illnesses must first be ruled out - this means a series of blood tests, urinalysis, and other various examinations and evaluations.
At one time, the only method of diagnosis was through the criteria established by the American College of Rheumatology. Now there is the Widespread Pain Index (WPI) and the Symptom Severity (SS) Scale which offer a more detailed and inclusive diagnosis, taking into consideration more than just the 11/18 designated tender spots established by the American College of Rheumatology.
Though different treatment options are available, acupuncture is both gentle and effective in managing fibromyalgia syndrome.
How does Acupuncture Treat Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia syndrome is usually treated based on symptoms. The current thought is that fibromyalgia syndrome occurs when the nervous system overreacts to otherwise "normal" stimuli. Acupuncture can help to calm the nervous system, allowing the body to better react to stimuli.
Acupuncture often helps to reduce inflammation which often occurs in people with fibromyalgia syndrome. It helps the body to metabolize excess water and utilize foods more efficiently. And by encouraging circulation, the body is better able to receive oxygen and other nutrients which help it to function more efficiently and with less pain.
Acupuncture by itself does not consist of a diagnostic criteria. A physician who practices a specific style, such as Japanese style, may have a completely different method for treating someone with fibromyalgia syndrome than a practitioner who practices traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). One form of acupuncture is not necessarily better than the other - it depends on the practitioner and the patient.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture
In TCM, pain is a result of impaired Qi circulation. Acupuncture reduces pain because it regulates and restores the balance of energy in the body. Though pain reduction is a major component of any fibromyalgia syndrome treatment, identifying the underlying cause is just as important. With fibromyalgia, both the nature of the pain and your individual constitution must be taken into consideration.
In TCM, impaired Qi movement can be due to either an "excess" or a "deficient" condition.
In excess conditions, Qi is unable to move through the channels due to blockages. Pathogenic Qi, Blood, and fluids accumulate, create friction, and cause pain. Think of clogged pipes or arteries… Both are due to a “blockage” and the substance necessary for the optimal functioning of the entity is reduced.
Acupuncture “breaks up” these blockages and encourages movement through the channels. Areas of stagnation and stasis commonly manifest in the form of inflammation, tight muscles, and “knots” or trigger points. Trigger points are bands of contracted muscle tissue. They often feel like nodules and are sensitive to touch and pressure.
Deficient conditions are common in people with fibromyalgia. Your body is not producing enough Qi or other vital substances to function properly. Deficient conditions are manifested in symptoms of overall tenderness, aching, and fatigue.
Often people present with both excess and deficiency. In order for treatment to be effective, both conditions must be considered. Treating the excess is relatively easy... Excess conditions can often (not always) be resolved in a few treatments. Treating pain related to a deficiency can be more complex. Treatments should be based on nourishment and boosting your body. If treatments are too aggressive with a deficient condition, you can be left feeling exhausted and run-down.
Treating fibromyalgia is all about balance. What works for one person may not work for another. Any health care provider should work with you to find the treatment strategy that will benefit you.
How Many Treatments Before I'm Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibromyalgia syndrome. Acupuncture will help to manage fibromyalgia and reduce symptoms, but to say that it will "cure" you, would be incorrect.
Most likely, you will obtain relief from your symptoms in a few visits. However, you will want to discuss with your practitioner about a treatment plan, because symptoms will re-occur. Regular treatments will prevent flare-ups and reduce the intensity of the symptoms.
Points to Consider
Spleen 21 (Dabao)
AKA the "fibromyalgia point," this acupuncture point is commonly used because it helps to alleviate aches and pains throughout the body. It is located on the mid-axillary line, between the sixth and seventh ribs.
Pericardium 6 (Neiguan)
Another effective point for general pain relief. Pericardium 6 helps to relieve stress, nausea, and that feeling of tightness in the chest. It is located on the inside of the wrist, about two inches above the crease between the tendons of the palmaris longus and flexor radialis muscles.
Stomach 36 (Zusanli)
This acupuncture point has many benefits. In addition to giving the body a great energy boost, it can help to improve digestion, bloating, and benefits the muscles, ligaments, and tendon. It also helps for localized knee pain. Stomach 36 can also help coughing and asthma. It may even function to reduce stress. Plus, it has been shown to enhance the immune system of post-surgery rats with gastric carcinoma (Lai, Wang, Wang, Tang, Kong & Xu, 2008).
It is located below the knee, between the fibular head and tibia, at the level of the tibial tuberosity.
Liver 3 (Taichong)
This point is located on the top of the foot in the depression between the first and second metatarsal bones. By soothing the Liver and coursing Qi throughout the body, Liver 3 is able to not only relieve pain, but it can also be used to calm stress, alleviate headaches, and benefit the eyes.
Hua Tuo Jia Ji Points
These are a series of 17 bilateral points located right next to the spinous processes. The spinous processes are the parts of the vertebra that can be seen on the back. By stimulating these points, the nervous system is directly impacted. Since fibromyalgia is due to an overactive nervous system, utilizing the Hua Tuo Jia Ji points can have a dramatic effect on managing symptoms.
Lai, M., Wang, S., Wang, Y., Tang, C., Kong, L., & Xu, X. (2008). [Effects of electroacupuncture of "Zusanli" (ST 36), "Hegu" (LI 4) and/or "Sanyinjiao" (SP 9) on immunofunction in gastric carcinectomy rats]". Zhen Ci Yan Jiu, 4, 245-9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=acupuncture stomach 36 white blood cells