Acupuncture & Alternative Treatments for Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is characterized by pain in different parts of the body. (Learn More – What Is Fibromyalgia?)

The disorder is diagnosed by physicians who evaluate 18 pressure points in the body. (Learn More – Symptoms of Fibromyalgia)

Although the cause of fibromyalgia is not known, there are several identified risk factors. (Learn More – Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia)

Fibromyalgia is treated with a holistic approach, (Learn More – How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?) using medication (Learn More – Medications to Treat Fibromyalgia) and behavioral interventions. (Learn More – Behavioral Treatments for Fibromyalgia)

Research reviewing the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating fibromyalgia is not very optimistic. (Learn More – Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia)

However, there are some other alternative treatments that may boost the success of standard treatment approaches. (Learn More – Other Alternative Treatments for Fibromyalgia)

For maximum effectiveness, you can combine alternative treatments with standard treatments for fibromyalgia. (Learn More – What Is the Takeaway Message?)

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is characterized by widespread pain in the body, as well as decreased energy, sleep problems, and cognitive and emotional issues, particularly memory loss and depression.

Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. They are also more likely to have other disorders, such as tension headaches, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and anxiety disorders.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

The major symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Widespread pain that has been present for at least three months. The pain is present on both sides of the body, and it occurs both above and below the waist.
  • Pressure point pain. Physicians use a procedure that investigates pain on 18 different pressure points (nine on each side of the body) to make the diagnosis. The diagnosis is made if the person has pain in at least 11 of these points.
  • Persistent fatigue.
  • Difficulty with cognition (thinking). This can include problems focusing, trouble maintaining attention, and memory issues.

Risk Factors for Fibromyalgia

There is no identified cause of fibromyalgia; however, there are identified risk factors associated with the disorder.

  • Heredity: The disorder appears to run in families – you have a greater risk of developing fibromyalgia if you have a first-degree relative who has it.
  • Gender: The ratio of females to males diagnosed with fibromyalgia is 9:1. Thus, your risk substantially increases if you are female.
  • Previous illnesses: These may be associated with the onset of fibromyalgia, especially a history of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Stress or trauma: A history of significant stress or trauma appears to be associated with an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia.

How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?

In most cases, a combination of medication and therapy is used to treat people with fibromyalgia.

Medications Used in the Treatment of Fibromyalgia

  • Analgesic pain medications: Pain relievers, particularly acetaminophen products like Tylenol, ibuprofen products like Advil, or naproxen products like Aleve, are commonly used to manage fibromyalgia-related pain.
  • Prescription medications: Drugs like Ultram (tramadol) can help, but stronger opioid drugs are not advised. These potent drugs have a significant potential for the development of physical dependence and abuse.
  • Antidepressants: These medications can be used to address pain and fatigue in people with fibromyalgia.
  • Mood stabilizers: Drugs like Neurontin (gabapentin) or Lyrica (pregabalin) appear to reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Behavioral Treatments for Fibromyalgia

Several behavioral interventions can address issues with fibromyalgia, including:

  • Physical therapy: This can be used to increase stamina, flexibility, and strength.
  • Occupational therapy: This can help people perform everyday responsibilities and work-related tasks more efficiently.
  • Psychotherapy: This can help patients learn stress management, relieve emotional issues, and develop self-confidence.

Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia

Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine in which needles are inserted at special points in the body to help energy flow. Modern acupuncture includes the standard placement of thin needles in these specific points, or it can use needles that can deliver electronic charges to stimulate the pressure points.

A large summary of the research evidence available was published in 2013. It evaluated the research on the utility of acupuncture in treating fibromyalgia. Briefly, these were the findings:

  • Many of the reviewed studies were of poor quality.
  • There was only a slight difference between the use of acupuncture and sham acupuncture (placing the needles anywhere) in its effectiveness in treating fibromyalgia.
  • Electrified acupuncture was more effective than traditional acupuncture in reducing symptoms.
  • There was low to moderate evidence that acupuncture was effective in treating fibromyalgia.

Overall, the findings were not suggestive that acupuncture alone has any significant effect in treating fibromyalgia overall, but it may work for some people. How it works is not well understood, but it may be the result of a placebo effect, or the electrical stimulation needles may be beneficial for some people.

The research findings concluded that acupuncture was probably better than no treatment at all, but the quality of research was poor, and better research was suggested. Subsequent research studies have produced similarly mixed findings.

Other Alternative Treatments for Fibromyalgia

Alternative treatments are often used in conjunction with standard treatments. They are designed to enhance the effectiveness of standard treatments for a particular condition. In most cases, these treatments are not designed to be standalone treatments.

Some of the treatments that might be effective include:

  • Massage therapy. Massage appears to produce significant reductions in the pain level of fibromyalgia, and it is worth a try for most people. Choose a licensed massage therapist who has experience treating people with fibromyalgia.
  • Biofeedback and meditation. These can reduce stress and may be effective in reducing the subjective experience of pain in people with fibromyalgia.
  • Light yoga or tai chi. This may be effective for some people with fibromyalgia because exercise and stretching are standard therapies used to treat the disorder.
  • Chiropractic care. This is similar to the use of massage therapy for the treatment of fibromyalgia.

Herbal remedies are not suggested because many of the substances are not regulated by the FDA. They may interact with medications or produce unwanted side effects.

What Is the Takeaway Message?

Anyone diagnosed with fibromyalgia should begin using standard treatment protocols to address their issues. Acupuncture is probably no more effective than a placebo in treating fibromyalgia; however, some people might get relief from it.

Acupuncture is generally safe when it is performed by trained individuals who maintain the proper protocols to ensure that the needles are clean. It is possible to get an infection from the needles if they are not properly maintained.

Other forms of complementary treatments, such as massage, meditation, and yoga, are good additions to the standard treatment protocol. If you are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, you might want to investigate these options.

Always check with your physician before engaging in any treatment, and stick to your medical treatment regime. Do not substitute alternative treatments for standard medical treatments.

References

Fibromyalgia. (March 2019). American College of Rheumatology.

Everything You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia. (December 2016). Healthline.

Everything You Need to Know About Fibromyalgia. (January 2018). Medical News Today.

Acupuncture for Treating Fibromyalgia. (June 2013). Cochrane Review.

Fibromyalgia: Complementary and Alternative Treatments. (February 2018). Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care.

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