Acupuncture Lessens Fibromyalgia Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

Nine weekly sessions of individualized acupuncture significantly lessened pain intensity and improved function and quality of life in people with fibromyalgia, according to researchers in Spain. Their placebo controlled study, published in Acupuncture in Medicine, also found the beneficial effects of acupuncture often continued a year later.

Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood disorder characterized by deep tissue pain, headaches, fatigue, depression and insomnia. It affects about one in 20 people.  The cause is unknown and there is no cure.

About 90% of people who have fibromyalgia try some form of alternative therapy such as massage, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture. But most of the data on the effectiveness of acupuncture have been based on clinical trials of standard, rather than individually tailored, treatment.

To find out if a more personalized approach would be more effective, researchers compared individually tailored acupuncture therapy with sham treatment in 153 adults, all of whom had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, according to diagnostic criteria set out by the American College of Rheumatology.

Patients continued to take whatever drugs they had been prescribed to alleviate symptoms during the course of the study.

Both the real and simulated treatments were provided in nine weekly sessions, each lasting 20 minutes. Participants were asked about their perceived levels of pain, depression, and health related quality of life (physical and mental) before treatment began; and then again at 10 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months afterwards. The overall impact of their condition was measured by the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ).

After 10 weeks, perceived pain intensity was lower among those given real acupuncture. Their pain scores had dropped by an average of 41%, compared with an average of 27% for those given the placebo treatment. Significant differences persisted after a year, with an average fall of 20% in the pain score among those treated with acupuncture compared to about 6% for those given the simulated treatment.

Participants who were given the real treatment also had fewer tender points, and had less fatigue, anxiety and depression. FIQ scores also differed significantly between the two groups.

“Individualized acupuncture treatment in primary care in patients with fibromyalgia proved efficacious in terms of pain relief, compared with placebo treatment. The effect persisted at one year, and its side effects were mild and infrequent. Therefore, the use of individualized acupuncture in patients with fibromyalgia is recommended,” wrote lead author Dr. Jorge Vas, Doña Mercedes Primary Health Centre, in Dos Hermanas, Spain.

Acupuncture was originally developed as part of traditional Chinese medicine and is one of the most widely practiced forms of alternative medicine. As many as 3 million Americans receive acupuncture treatments, most often for relief of chronic pain. While there is little consensus in the medical community about acupuncture’s value, a large study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that  “acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option.”