Acupuncture & fibromyalgia

Chronic medical disorders can take a physical and mental toll on sufferers, particularly where pain is a major symptom of the disease in question. In these instances, a range of different treatments are used to treat the illness and manage its unpleasant symptoms. In this article we look at how one of these management techniques, acupuncture, can be used to treat a debilitating chronic medical disorder called fibromyalgia.

What is fibromyalgia?

Often abbreviated to FMS or FM, fibromyalgia is a condition characterised by an extremely by body wide pain and sensitivity to any pressure. FM is complex and many different factors are thought to contribute to the onset of the disease. There is a strong genetic component to the disease, but stress and other stress-linked diseases have also been identified as causative factors. These include IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Many investigations into the specific causes of the disease are being performed, but at present no clear cut mechanism for its onset has been identified as it is a complex illness with many different facets.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia are, most significantly, the aforementioned pain and sensitivity to pressure. There are, however, many other signs of the disease which include:

  • Chronic tiredness/fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Stiffness in the joints
  • Problems with bladder and bowel function
  • Cognitive issues
  • Numbness and tingling at different parts of the body.

Fibromyalgia’s treatment is complex and multi-faceted, however there is no cure for the condition as of yet. A number of different modes of treatment have proven successful, particularly when applied as part of a multi-disciplinary treatment plan.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (often abbreviated to CBT) has shown to manage the stress related aspects of the disease by equipping patients with tools with which to manage the pain inherent to FM. CBT has proven most effective when combined with other avenues of treatment, which include physical therapies and pharmaceutical options.

There are three medications for the treatment of fibromyalgia currently in use, and all of them have shown to be reasonably effective in managing both the pain and other symptoms associated with the condition. Certain opioids (potent painkillers like codeine and morphine), muscle relaxants, and antidepressants have also proven to be effective in some cases. It is important to point out that many of these medications have only proven effective amongst some patients rather than all sufferers of FM.

Physiotherapy and exercise have been shown to be potent tools in managing FM, with particular success reported through aquatic therapy (exercises and physical therapies based underwater).

All of these approaches provide tools with which to manage fibromyalgia, however the complexity of the condition means that while some patients benefit from a particular combination of treatments, others do not. Acupuncture can provide a valuable alternative for patients struggling with the disease and its symptoms.

How can acupuncture help people suffering from fibromyalgia?

The traditional Chinese practice of acupuncture has proven to have many applications in modern medicine, particularly as an alternative therapy for people like sufferers of fibromyalgia who can sometimes struggle to find an effective method of managing the disease.

The practice itself can be interpreted from either the traditional Chinese or modern perspectives. The former describes acupuncture as a means by which healthy flow of Qi, a vital life energy, can be restored to a diseased body. The latter on the other hand, describes acupuncture as a method of stimulating natural pain relief and muscle relaxation, although no clear scientific explanation of the effects of acupuncture has been produced. Regardless of the principles driving acupuncture, the techniques used typically involve inserting a needle into pre-determined parts of the body which correspond with an area of pain or disease.

While no entirely conclusive evidence has been brought to light to support acupuncture as an effective method of treating fibromyalgia, some studies have shown that it is a valuable pain management tool for sufferers of the disease who have not responded well to more conservative treatments. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in 2005 is one example that supports these assertions.

The most important point to make about acupuncture as a treatment for the symptoms of fibromyalgia is that it should be employed as part of a multi-disciplinary, cohesive treatment programme. You should always discuss acupuncture with your doctor before pursuing it, and he or she will be able to give you the benefit of their experience and knowledge in deciding whether or not it can be a productive pursuit for you and your condition.

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