by Stef Cordes and Lisa Baird
Fibromyalgia is a debilitating, largely misunderstood inflammatory condition. Symptoms include widespread pain and stiffness, as well as insomnia, anxiety and depression, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, digestive issues and more. Western medicine cannot explain what causes fibromyalgia, but recognizes that there are numerous factors at play including genetics, emotional trauma and physical trauma. Conventional treatment of the symptoms that make up fibromyalgia includes a cocktail of painkillers, antidepressants, and/or anti-seizure medication.
What Does the Research Say?
Assessing the effectiveness of acupuncture with our current standards of study can be tricky. Sham interventions cannot be inactive placebos, as the needles still pierce the skin and therefore have some effect on our health and well-being. However, there are some studies that still find benefit over sham-cupuncture. One review (Cao 2010 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110829/) even found acupuncture to be superior to pharmaceutical drugs when it came to pain relief. Acupuncture has also shown promising results when combined with pharmaceutical intervention in terms of reported pain levels and quality of life (Targino 2008 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4105202/).
How Does Acupuncture Work?
We don’t really know exactly how acupuncture works for fibromyalgia, or even pain, but there are a few ideas out there. It is believed to affect the nervous system, causing the release of certain chemicals in the body that provide pain relief, like endorphins which are endogenous (made by the body) opioids. It also takes us out of “fight-or-flight” mode and induces a state of “rest-and-digest” relaxation.
To put it very simply in terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine: acupuncture needles move qi, or vital life force. When the qi flows smoothly, the body is healthy. When qi stagnates, we experience pain and disease.
What Benefits Can I Expect From Regular Treatment?
We treat people for both acute and chronic pain at Guelph Community Acupuncture, in fact, pain is probably the most common complaint we treat effectively at the clinic. As for difficulty sleeping, we often say that one of the side effects of acupuncture is a good night’s rest. It is extremely common for people to nap in one of our lazy boy chairs with the needles in.
Depression and anxiety are common symptoms of fibromyalgia, and people get relief from mood-related complaints every day in our clinic. Acupuncture has the wonderful ability to induce a feeling of lasting relaxation, calm, and a sense that in this moment, everything is going to be ok.
A common analogy used in fibromyalgia is that of a rechargeable battery, that needs recharging (with self care and rest) in order to have sufficient energy to get through the day.
All bodily processes and functions need energy in order to occur. If the battery does not contain enough energy to run all processes, that limited amount of energy will be shunted to where it is most needed, and other areas will suffer on a lower amount of energy, which may contribute to nerve pain, muscle cramping, headaches, problems with digestion, brain fog, low energy and more. Some batteries can hold a lot of energy and therefore run for a long time without needing recharging. Other batteries do not and therefore need regular recharging.
Self-care is a recognized cornerstone to the treatment of fibromyalgia, as reducing stress and getting sufficient good quality sleep are so critical to reported well-being, especially in fibromyalgia. Time and time again we have seen people’s sleep improve and their resiliency to stress increase with acupuncture. And, like a battery that needs recharging, regular acupuncture can help provide you with more reserve.
Some of our patients with fibromyalgia have made treatment at GCA a regular part of their routine, enjoying increased energy levels and decreased pain. Other patients book in when they’re having a “flare-up”, knowing that a few treatments close together will ease them through the spike in pain and exhaustion. If you have questions about how acupuncture can help you or a loved one manage fibromyalgia, please get in touch.