Fibromyalgia can be a very frustrating condition for a number of reasons. It can be a difficult condition to describe, diagnose, and treat. In addition, it is a chronic condition with unpredictable flare-ups.
People who struggle with fibromyalgia may describe their symptoms as feeling like they had a tough day at the gym, or they may have a deep achiness that feels like they have the flu. Fibromyalgia literally means pain in your body’s fibrous tissue, which includes muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Unfortunately, when it comes to this condition, pain and achiness is only one part of a whole host of symptoms.
For most people who have fibromyalgia, the pain is almost always combined with other symptoms. This may include crushing fatigue, sleeplessness, depression, memory problems, poor concentration, and muscle spasms and knots. While the syndrome is considered to be chronic, it’s common for the symptoms to flare, recede, and change from day to day.
Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose, and a positive diagnosis may take several appointments with your doctor. There’s no lab test to detect fibromyalgia, nor is there visible illness or structural damage to the body. In addition, it doesn’t appear to be an inflammatory or rheumatic condition. Doctors often determine a diagnosis from a group of symptoms or the presence of wide-ranging pain at specific points throughout your body for at least three months.
In many cases, due to the overwhelming fatigue that many patients experience with fibromyalgia, their diagnosis may often be confused with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Furthermore, fibromyalgia is considered to be a syndrome; a condition with a wide variety symptoms seemingly unrelated to the achiness and fatigue, such as digestive problems, headaches, numbness and tingling, and sensory hypersensitivity. The fact that each patient may experience different symptoms, but not necessarily every symptom, makes diagnosing fibromyalgia that much more difficult.
The specific cause is unknown, but researchers have some clues. It tends to run in families and occur more frequently in people with other health conditions or who are sedentary. In addition, there seems to be a strong emotional link, occurring at a greater incidence in people with a history of abuse or who suffer from anxiety, depression, or PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome).
Western treatment consists of over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription anti-depressants, and sleep medications. Some doctors may also recommend massage, physical therapy, the use of heat, and exercise.
Frequently, patients with fibromyalgia turn to acupuncture and Chinese medicine for treatment, and research is backing up their choice. A recently published review of several studies on treating fibromyalgia with acupuncture concluded that it was useful for pain relief, reducing stiffness, and enhancing sleep in patients. The researchers also concluded that electric acupuncture, in which gentle electric stimulation was added to the acupuncture needles, was more effective than acupuncture alone.
Physiologically, there are a number of ways to explain acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating fibromyalgia. Scientists have discovered that acupuncture boosts your body’s own opioid-like pain modulation system. It also increases the circulation of feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain that help to improve mood, reduce depression, enhance sleep, and help relieve pain. Acupuncture also enhances the circulation of blood and nutrients throughout your body, to help relieve muscle stiffness and pain, and improve your range of motion.
If you choose to try acupuncture for fibromyalgia, your practitioner may add a variety of additional healing tools to your treatment plan. They may use electric stimulation to enhance the effect of the acupuncture, prescribe an herbal formula, make dietary recommendations, incorporate heat therapy, and perform a kind of bodywork called Tui Na.
The bottom line is that for many patients suffering from fibromyalgia, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can offer effective relief.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.