Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by a constant dull pain throughout the body accompanied by fatigue and sleep disturbances. Symptoms can vary depending on the weather, stress, physical activity, and even time of day. Generally the pain is widespread and occurs in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, along with especially sore spots called “tender points” on various areas of the body.
Fibromyalgia can be accompanied by many other conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, headaches, IBS, arthritis, and restless legs syndrome, among others. There is still no clear cause for this condition, though it is believed to be a combination of genetics, stressful events such as car accidents, emotional stress or trauma, repetitive strain on the body, infections and other illnesses- basically everything that drains our immune system.
Fibromyalgia is a complicated condition and Western medicine often finds it difficult to treat. Fortunately, acupuncture has a lot to offer for sufferers of fibromyalgia. Acupuncture is widely known as being very effective for the treatment of pain, a big topic of research studies for years. In addition, sleeping disorders, anxiety, depression, and energy levels all respond well to the influence of acupuncture. Acupuncture acts on the body by normalizing our internal processes, so when a system is not functioning properly- such as our digestion, our sleep, our emotions, our stress, our immunity, our nervous system, etc- acupuncture is able to influence and correct that system to help it to resume it’s normal functioning.
With fibromyalgia, there are a number of patterns in Chinese medicine (TCM) that can contribute. The first is spleen deficiency, which can be responsible for many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, including fatigue, digestive problems, muscle weakness, and poor thinking. Liver qi/energy stagnation or blockage can also be a factor, causing emotional symptoms and muscle-joint stiffness. Blood deficiency prevents the body from being properly nourished, causing the constant pain typical of fibromyalgia. Kidney deficiency also plays a role, as all chronic muscle-joint pain tends to include the kidneys, and the kidneys are at the foundation of good health.
Acupuncture can help to reduce tender points, relieve body aching and pain, and improve mood, sleep and digestion, as well as many of the other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. The key to remember with acupuncture is that it is a healing process, rather than an instant fix, so recovery takes time and each treatment builds on the progress of the last, producing a steady and gradual improvement. We must also factor in the complexity of the condition and consider that conditions that are more complex or that have been developing over a longer period of time take more time to reverse and undo.
That being said, fibromyalgia sufferers can typically see pain relief quite early on in treatments, and with continued treatments, notice gradual improvement of the other symptoms as well. For this, acupuncture makes an excellent treatment option for fibromyalgia, one that does not produce negative side effects and in fact improves the body’s overall health while targeting the symptoms.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.