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Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia Syndrome

by Dr. Elizabeth Langer

Fibromyalgia Syndrome

Fibromyalgia syndrome, or "fibromyalgia," is a disorder commonly associated with widespread pain throughout the body. However, there are many other accompanying symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome, difficulty with sleep, neurological pain, stress, and fatigue. Fibromyalgia is a “disease of exclusion,” meaning other illnesses must be ruled out before an official diagnosis can be made. This means that patients are subjected to a series of blood tests, urinalysis, and other various examinations and evaluations.

Though different treatment options are available, acupuncture is both gentle and effective in managing fibromyalgia.

How does Acupuncture Treat Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is usually treated based on symptoms. Many believe that fibromyalgia occurs when the nervous system overreacts to otherwise "normal" stimuli. Acupuncture calms the nervous system, allowing the body to better react to stimuli.

Acupuncture reduces the inflammation in people with fibromyalgia syndrome. It helps the body to metabolize excess water and better absorb nutrients from food. Acupuncture also improves circulation of the vascular system. Better circulation allows the body to receive more oxygen and other nutrients, improving function and decreasing pain.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture

In traditional Chinese medicine (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 reducing pain is a major component of any treatment, it is necessary to identify the underlying cause. With fibromyalgia, both the nature of the pain and the patient's constitution must be considered. 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. 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.

In deficient conditions, the 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.

Patients often present with both excess and deficiency symptoms. 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 Qi. If treatments are too aggressive with a deficient condition, the patient can feel exhausted and run-down.

Can Acupuncture Cure Fibromyalgia Syndrome?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibromyalgia syndrome. Acupuncture helps to manage pain and reduce symptoms, but claiming that it "cures" fibromyalgia would be incorrect. However, relief is usually obtained in only a few visits. A treatment plan should be discussed with because symptoms will re-occur. Regular treatments will prevent flare-ups and reduce the intensity of the symptoms.

Treating fibromyalgia is all about balance. What works for one person may not work for another. A qualified health care provider should work with their patients to find the best treatment strategy possible.

Points to Consider

Spleen 21 (Dabao)

AKA the "fibromyalgia point," this acupuncture point is 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)

An 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 are visible under the skin 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.


References

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