Unlocking Relief: Acupuncture's Role in Fibromyalgia Management

One therapy that’s been making waves in the realm of complementary treatment of fibromyalgia is acupuncture.

This traditional Chinese medicine practice involves inserting fine needles into specific points on the body to restore balance and flow of energy, potentially alleviating widespread musculoskeletal pain and enhancing overall wellbeing.

The concept might seem abstract initially, yet study results indicate that acupuncture can potentially deliver pain relief and increase the quality of life for fibromyalgia patients. In this article, we will delve right into people with fibromyalgia undergoing acupuncture treatment and outline what clinical trials have found.

As with any other treatment, it's important to consult with your healthcare provider about your condition and your treatments, and know that a multifaceted approach to pain management is likely to be the most option.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes chronic widespread pain. Imagine having aches in your muscles and bones that don't go away, leaving you feeling tired and sore everywhere. Doctors believe it's because the body's pain system is much more sensitive than it should be. This phenomenon is referred to as central sensitization.

For those living with fibromyalgia, every day can be a challenge. They often have to deal with a multitude of symptoms, such as:

  • trouble sleeping, which makes them feel exhausted all the time
  • frequent headaches
  • pain in the jaw, a condition known as TMJ disorders
  • upset stomach, including issues like IBS
  • feeling anxious or more nervous than normal
  • experiencing sadness or depression.

What is acupuncture for fibromyalgia?

Acupuncture, when used as a therapy for fibromyalgia, works by the strategic placement of fine needles ranging from 1cm to 10cm at specific body locations called acupuncture points during treatment sessions. These points are believed to be helpful for the modulation of the body's energy flow1.

The targeted acupuncture points in fibromyalgia therapy typically include:

  • large intestine 4 (LI4)
  • stomach 36 (ST36)
  • liver 2 (LV2)
  • spleen 6 (SP6)
  • pericardium 6 (PC6)
  • heart 7 (HT7).

Although these might sound like secret code names, they are actually significant in the practice of acupuncture. It is theorized that by focusing on these particular points during acupuncture sessions, the symptoms of fibromyalgia can be positively affected.

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Can acupuncture help fibromyalgia?

The answer is that we have mixed results, particularly from the more rigorous experiments (ones that are likely to produce more accurate results).

A meta-analysis performed in 2018 found that acupuncture as a treatment for fibromyalgia did show promise distinguishable from placebo2. And another meta-analysis in 2022, which analyzed data from 715 patients across 12 studies, also found the role of acupuncture in diminishing fibromyalgia-related pain to be beneficial3.

Furthermore, when acupuncture is combined with moxibustion – a traditional Chinese medicinal technique – it has been found to be more effective than amitriptyline, a commonly prescribed medication for fibromyalgia4.

However, the evidence we have varies in quality, so we need more high-quality studies to be sure of its effects. It's also likely that different people respond differently to treatments, so acupuncture might help some people, but not others.

How does acupuncture help fibromyalgia?

Acupuncture might ease fibromyalgia symptoms through several proposed physiological mechanisms.

It's theorized that authentic acupuncture sessions may adjust serum serotonin and substance P levels, which are linked to fibromyalgia5. The practice could stimulate the release of natural painkillers such as endorphins and enkephalins, disrupt the transmission of pain signals in the nervous system, or activate pain-suppression pathways.

These theories could account for the pain relief reported by people who undergo acupuncture. Importantly, clinical trials have observed these therapeutic benefits to persist for at least a year post-treatment, suggesting that the effects are not merely due to placebo6.

How safe is acupuncture?

Acupuncture treatment is considered safe. Any adverse effects are usually insignificant, such as minor bruising or a slight discomfort. Although the process involves needle insertion, these needles are designed to be thin and cause little pain.

On the infrequent occasion that serious adverse events do occur from acupuncture, including infections or pneumothorax (collapsed lung), they can usually be successfully addressed and remedied through proper medical care. However, you should discuss these risks with your doctor if you are considering acupuncture. And always ensure that your acupuncturist is reputable and maintaining the highest standards of care and cleanliness. During an acupuncture session, you should observe the acupuncturist unpacking each needle individually – a critical practice for upholding safety standards and reducing infection risks.

Alternative medicine & treatment for fibromyalgia

Adopting a holistic and multifaceted approach is key when it comes to managing the persistent nerve pain associated with fibromyalgia. Alongside acupuncture, physical and psychological therapies may play a role in treating fibromyalgia pain, it's crucial to incorporate lifestyle adjustments, psychological methods, and medication where necessary.

Retraining your pain

Transforming your body's perception of pain is a multifaceted endeavor. It involves digging deep to identify the culprits – be they specific stressors or ingrained cognitive and behavioral patterns. Recognizing these factors allows you to start applying neuroplasticity-based techniques to modify how your brain processes pain stimuli.

Persistently applying these methods can lead to a gradual rewiring of your brain's pain interpretation circuits. Although it requires a steadfast commitment, the potential to alleviate pain and improve symptom management is a compelling incentive to embrace this journey.

Stress management

When stress levels rise, they can amplify the discomfort of fibromyalgia, much like pouring gasoline on a fire. Eliminating stress entirely may not be feasible, but gaining mastery over it is within reach. Consider this analogy: if stress is akin to a downpour, then mastering stress management techniques is like owning a sturdy umbrella.

Techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and relaxation exercises are akin to tools that mend the leaks stress creates in your life's fabric. And remember, you're not isolated in these challenges – there's solace in the support of friends, therapists, or support groups who empathize with your struggle. They serve as a warm refuge in the tumultuous weather of life. So seek their support when the going gets tough.

Medication strategies

While medications are a key component in a comprehensive approach to pain management, they should not be the only resource utilized. Think of medication as one tool among many that equip you to explore additional effective pain management and wellness enhancement strategies. These strategies encompass educational programs, changes in lifestyle, and psychological support systems.

To ease the nerve pain associated with fibromyalgia, doctors often prescribe a range of medications, such as:

  • familiar over-the-counter analgesics like aspirin and ibuprofen
  • antidepressants, including amitriptyline and duloxetine, which can mitigate pain while also aiding in emotional health
  • drugs such as Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN), which regulate pain and inflammation
  • anticonvulsants such as pregabalin and gabapentin, aimed at calming an overly reactive nervous system.

It's crucial to consult with your healthcare provider to identify the medication regimen or combination of therapies that best aligns with your individual needs.

Physical therapy & exercise

Engaging in physical exercises and receiving therapy are crucial components in managing fibromyalgia. Incorporating gentle aerobic activities and strength-building exercises into a regular routine can markedly reduce pain and alleviate depressive symptoms. Such physical engagement not only boosts your spirits and vitality but also mitigates discomfort.

Embarking on this journey with simple, pleasurable activities and gradually intensifying them is the key to success. A physical therapist can offer expert advice, helping you to initiate your exercise regimen safely. They can also provide education about fibromyalgia, demonstrate hands-on therapy techniques, and recommend home exercises such as aquatic therapy or gentle stretching.

It's imperative to strike the right balance; maintaining an active lifestyle is important, but it's equally crucial not to push beyond your limits.

Importance of quality sleep

Mastering sleep is a crucial ally in the fight against the symptoms of fibromyalgia, acting as a cornerstone of self-care methods to lessen pain. Sleep and fibromyalgia symptoms share a two-way relationship; poor sleep can amplify symptoms, which, conversely, may lead to sleep disturbances.

To alleviate fibromyalgia symptoms, honing your sleep routines is advantageous. Here are some strategies to improve your sleep quality:

  • Establish and maintain a consistent sleep schedule, aiming for an ideal eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Limit daytime napping to ensure it doesn't interfere with nighttime sleep, using short naps to refresh yourself.
  • Engage in daily activities that can promote better sleep at night.
  • Reduce the use of electronic devices before bedtime to create a sleep-friendly setting.
  • Make your sleep environment as dark and quiet as possible to support uninterrupted sleep.
  • Watch your intake of caffeine, especially in the later hours, as it can linger in your system and affect sleep.
  • Avoid consuming large meals and alcohol before bedtime to prevent disturbances in sleep quality.
  • Implement relaxation techniques aimed at calming the heart, relaxing muscles, and quieting the mind to improve sleep hygiene and manage fibromyalgia symptoms more effectively.

More information

At MoreGoodDays®, we're committed to embracing a comprehensive approach tailored to the unique needs of those affected by fibromyalgia. We grasp the pervasive impact of this condition and provide an array of personalized strategies to address your individual needs.

Our resources and self-management techniques are designed to enhance your understanding of fibromyalgia and empower you to take control of your symptoms. We champion lifestyle changes that focus on physical activity, nutritional choices, and sleep patterns to elevate your overall wellbeing.

Join us on your path to a more rewarding life as we tackle the intricacies of fibromyalgia together.

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