Fibromyalgia & Acupuncture

Fibromyalgia affects an estimated 5 million Americans, 80-90% of whom are women. The disorder is characterized by widespread pain and diffuse tenderness. Although there is no cure, tailored acupuncture might provide some welcome respite, according to a new study. Although difficult to categorize, fibromyalgia is considered a rheumatic condition because it impairs soft tissue and joints and causes pain. Multiple studies from both the East and the West suggest that acupuncture is effective for treating Fibromyalgia. In the West, it hasn’t been studied as much, but many Chinese studies suggest it’s effective for that condition. Meta analyses of acupuncture for conditions conclude that it appears to be a beneficial treatment, but that further high-quality research is needed.

Fibromyalgia carries with it a number of other life-disrupting symptoms that vary from individual to individual. These symptoms can include muscle stiffness, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and sensitivity to temperature, sounds and bright lights. Perhaps because of the lack of medical treatments for fibromyalgia, one study found that 91% of sufferers seek solace in complementary medicine such as hydrotherapy, massage and acupuncture. A combination of Western as well as traditional Chinese medicine probably offers these patients the best possible therapy.

Acupuncture involves shallow piercing of the skin with small needles at specific points. Traditional Chinese practitioners theorize that the points connect with energy conducting meridians, affecting spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance of the opposing forces of yin and yang. Western scientists suggest that stimulation with the needles may enhance or inhibit nerve conduction. Fibromyalgia is a widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder for which the cause is still unknown. Fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons the fibrous tissues in the body.

As acupuncture has moved more into the mainstream, many insurance companies have added it to their policies, and some doctor’s offices and clinics have begun to offer it at their facilities. Make sure you know the details of your insurance policy before assuming it will cover acupuncture treatments. Research released in 2008 showed that after 20 acupuncture treatments, people had significant improvements in pain and quality of life that lasted for 3 months after treatment was stopped, with a gradual decline in those areas until all benefit was gone after 2 years. Acupuncture can be much safer than other therapies, especially if you’re combining several different treatments.

When you go to an acupuncturist, he/she will likely take your pulse at several points along both wrists. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to stick out your tongue;the tongue’s shape, color and coating are important diagnostic tools. The needles only go in about a centimeter. After inserting them, the acupuncturist will twist or gently wiggle them to get them firmly into the proper point. You might get a muscle twitch or brief ache, or you might feel nothing at all. Once all the needles are in (the amount used varies), you’ll stay in place and rest for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. You’ll probably be extremely relaxed and could even fall asleep. Afterward, the acupuncturist will pluck out the needles. A few hours after your first treatment, you could feel some aches around your body. This is normal, and practitioners say it’s a sign that the treatment is working. The aches don’t typically last long, and over-the-counter pain relievers will help. It’s common to sleep more deeply than usual that night.

Celeste Botonakis

On the Nursing Assistant Guides blog, certified medical assistant Celeste Botonakis explores the daily life of a CMA. She'll keep you up-to-date with the latest on what’s happening in the field, and provides tips for those who are interested in becoming a medical or nursing assistant. Celeste has served in the medical field for over six years, and is passionate about helping people. She currently works at CSR Primary Care in Skokie, Illinois. Click here to learn more about Celeste Botonakis and