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Fibromyalgia (FM) is a debilitating illness, which according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), affects 2% - 3% of the adult population in the U.S., or an estimated 3 - 6 million people. This chronic - pain syndrome affects women between the ages of 20 and 50 years old; as well as, men and teens. The prevalence of FM in women is much greater than men, occurring at a ratio of 7:1, and is generally under diagnosed in both men and women.
The causes of FM are currently not understood, but more than likely they arise out of the complex interrelationship of the body and mind, creating a system - wide spectrum of symptoms such as: mild to severe pain that is chronic, body aches, tenderness, stiffness, sleep disturbance, not feeling rested after waking, and fatigue. Secondary symptoms which can complicate FM are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches / migraines, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, depression and or anxiety, and problems with memory and concentration.
Since Western medicine doesn’t know the exact cause of FM, their treatment plan is based on treating the symptoms with a combination of physical therapy or exercise, stress relief and relaxation techniques, and drugs. Commonly prescribed drugs include: pain relievers (Ultram, Ultracet); muscle relaxants (Flexeril); antidepressants (Amitril, Elavil); and anti-seizure drugs (Lyrica); SSNRI’s (Cymbalta, Effexor, Savella).
From an Eastern point of view, the main pathomechanism of FM, especially in Western patients, is centered on the Liver and Spleen. A disruption in the normal functioning of these two organs causes either a deficiency in one or both, and / or a disharmony between the two. Once this relationship is imbalanced it can cause other organ systems to display dysfunctional activities. Some of the characteristics of this disharmony of Liver and Spleen can manifest as various gastrointestinal issues, or even psychological problems.
In my experience with patients suffering from fibromyalgia, acupuncture and herbs, along with lifestyle changes can have significantly positive results after 2 - 3 months of therapy. Of course, the level of treatment success will vary from one patient to another; and some patients may need more treatments than others. Another major factor for a positive outcome, no matter what the chief complaint is, will be the will / motivation of the patient to make the necessary changes in their life to perpetuate the healing process and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Generally speaking, a patient will come in 2 to 3 times a week for 2 – 3 months, and thereafter treatments are scaled back to once a week, twice a month or once a month as needed.
The goal of the treatment plan is fourfold including the following points:
1) To put emphasis on the presenting symptoms, namely the consuming pain, in order to give the patient relief.
2) Many of my patients complain of sleep disturbances / insomnia, which compounds the pain and suffering that they experience during the day. This can be an extremely important part of the treatment goal, because this can lead to other health complications.
3) While treating the main presenting symptoms, it’s crucial to simultaneously treat the root cause of the problem that is causing the syndrome to manifest.
4) Lastly, we have to address the patient’s lifestyle by modifying nutritional habits, adding stress relieving exercises, developing ways to deal with the pain and suffering when it arises, massage (in most cases), and forming an exercise routine that the patient can perform without difficulty.
In closing, there have been more than a few studies conducted that show acupuncture to be an effective treatment for fibromyalgia. Here are two such studies: The first was a randomized clinical trial that compared fluoxetine and acupuncture as treatments for fibromyalgia. The findings of this study were that, “Acupuncture significantly improved pain and symptoms of fibromyalgia.” It also concluded that acupuncture had no side-effects and was tolerable.[i]
In a 2010 meta-analysis of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a treatment for FM, the authors found compelling evidence that TCM was effective as a treatment protocol and warranted further research.[ii]
[i] A randomized clinical trial of fibromyalgia treatment with acupuncture compared with fluoxetine
M J Hadianfard, M Hosseinzadeh Parizi: Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2012 October; 14(10): 631–640. Published online 2012 October 30.
[ii] Cao H, Liu J, Lewith GT. Traditional Chinese medicine for treatment of fibromyalgia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2010; 16(4): 397-409.