Acupuncture treats the pain associated with fibromyalgia and improves fatigue.
One of my very first patients was a fibromyalgia sufferer. She also had chronic fatigue syndrome. Since that early experience, I have seen these two disorders go hand-in-hand repeatedly. Of course, they can occur separately, too. And having fibromyalgia is likely to make a person chronically fatigued even if they don’t have “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”
Regardless, acupuncture can help treat both disorders. Recent research from China has shown that using an integrative approach to treating fibromyalgia by combining acupuncture, herbal medicine and Western medicine improves quality of life and relieves pain. Research shows the Qigong is also helpful for fibromyalgia sufferers, so I often give my patients exercises to do at home, too.
What is fibromyalgia and what are its symptoms?
Fibromyalgia is a pain disorder that causes the brain to process pain signals from the nerves differently than normal. The result is pervasive musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep problems, memory loss and mood issues. Some say that symptoms began gradually, building to severe all-over pain. Others report a trigger, like physical or emotional trauma, surgery or severe psychological stress. It is much more common for women to be affected by fibromyalgia than men.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome and what are its symptoms?
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a mysterious disorder. It is characterized by very severe fatigue unrelated to any other medical condition. Physical and mental work will make the fatigue worse, but rest won’t improve it. The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome from a Western medical perspective is unknown. Theories range from entirely psychological causes to some kind of viral infection. My personal opinion, and I am certainly not alone, is that there are a number of causative factors at work at once.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by extreme fatigue, non-restful sleep, memory loss, sore throat, swollen glands (lymphadenopathy), muscle pain and memory loss.
How does my doctor diagnose and treat fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome?
To diagnose you with fibromyalgia, your doctor must perform a physical exam and take a medical history. As part of a fibromyalgia diagnosis, your doctor will likely also do blood tests and check your thyroid.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but your doctor may prescribe a variety of medications to help control symptoms, like pain relievers, anti-seizure medications and antidepressants. Doctors favoring an integrative medicine approach will often also recoomend acupuncture and Chinese medicine, exercise, psychotherapy, and relaxation and stress-reduction techniques.
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, so there is no diagnostic test for the disorder. Your doctor will likely test you for a number of other conditions to rule out disorders that mimic chronic fatigue syndrome, like mood and sleep disorders, anemia, diabetes and hypothyroid. Western medical treatments focus largely on symptom relief rather than cure.
How does acupuncture evaluate and treat fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome?
In Chinese medicine, we have a category of diseases that are labelled “curious.” These two disorders definitely fit into that category. We also treat the mind, body and spirit at once, so having disorders that manifest both physical pain symptoms and mental-emotional symptoms at the same time is not out of the ordinary. I think this puts acupuncture at a distinct advantage when treating these disorders that have “no cause.”
When I see a patient for treatment of either fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, I temporarily discard whatever diagnosis they have from my mind. I want to see this person as he or she is right at that moment. What is this person experiencing right then – what’s the quality of the pain like? Where is it? What does the fatigue feel like? What emotions are being experienced? How is the person’s general health? Don’t get me wrong, diagnoses are important and often helpful, but sometimes people become their diagnosis instead of being themselves. I want to know the unique you in my office, not what the diagnosis says you’re experiencing. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are personal, tailor-made modalities. That’s why they work.
Through conversation and other traditional methods of Chinese medical diagnosis, I make what’s called a pattern diagnosis. This diagnosis reflects a pattern of disharmony. I then use acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to correct the disharmony. I also use adjunct techniques like moxa, cupping, and Tuina medical massage.
When someone has fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, internal medicine is very important. I always recommend Chinese herbal medicine to take internally. For parts of the body that are easily submerged, like the feet and hands, I may also recommend herbal soaks. Chinese dietary therapy and nutritional supplements may also be recommended.
Regardless of the treatment plan, your treatment is fully individualized to fit you exactly.