by Mary Vincent, L.Ac.
Fibromyalgia is a common disorder of the central nervous system which manifests as a vast array of physical and emotional symptoms in the affected individuals. It affects more than 5 million people in the US alone, is more likely to occur in adults between 20 and 50 years old, and is far more common in women than men. There is no specific medical test that can detect fibromyalgia, but rather it is diagnosed based on the following criteria:
▪ Widespread body pain which presents as a specific and recognizable pattern in those affected. This includes having pain in all 4 quadrants of the body (both sides of the body and above and below the waist), and tenderness at at least 11 out of 18 specific trigger points. It can also be associated with an increased sensitivity to light and sound. The majority of people with fibromyalgia find themselves very stiff after sleeping or prolonged inactivity (this typically improves with movement). Pain can often be worse in cold and damp weather and during times of increased stress
▪ Difficult or disordered sleep patterns, often referred to as non-restorative sleep (one sleeps “lightly” and does not wake feeling rested or refreshed).
▪ Memory problems and/or difficulty concentrating.
▪ Significant and ongoing fatigue.
Other symptoms and coexisting disorders often found with fibromyalgia include:
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Interstitial Cystitis
• Anxiety and/or depression
• Chronic tension headaches and/or migraines
• Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
• Tingling of the hands and feet
• Painful menstrual cycles
The causes of fibromyalgia remain unclear, and there is no known cure for the disorder. Symptoms are typically managed with a wide variety of over the counter and prescription pain relievers and sleep medications. Recent research suggests there is a strong genetic component, and it tends to run in families (particularly among mothers, daughters, and sisters). It is generally accepted that many people diagnosed with fibromyalgia have experienced an acute physical or psychological trauma. PTSD has been linked to the disorder. Regardless of genetics or trauma, it appears that it is a neurobiological disorder which causes chronic, intensified pain signals from the body to the brain, resulting in much stronger sensations of pain than a person would typically be expected to experience.
Acupuncture can be an extremely powerful tool in managing a majority of the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. Being that acupuncture is very effective in calming and regulating the nervous system, it is therefore effective in reducing the body’s overall pain response, improving digestion, and promoting rest and sleep. The brain will also release endorphins in response to the acupuncture needles, a natural chemical which contributes to an overall sense of relaxation, well being, and further decreases bodily pain and mental stress.
We see all of the symptoms listed above in our clinic on a regular basis, and can treat many issues concurrently during a treatment. As fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, most patients have the greatest success at moderating their symptoms if they are treated regularly, coming for acupuncture on an ongoing basis in addition to any other medications or therapies they find lessen and keep their symptoms in check. Typically this means coming in at least weekly or biweekly for treatments, though we may suggest up to 3 to times a week (based on the frequency and severity of the symptoms). Also based on the severity of the individual’s case, we may recommend specific herbal formulas and/or dietary and lifestyle recommendations in addition to your acupuncture treatments.
For more extensive information, we like this New York Times Health Guide article on fibromyalgia, and this NIH article.