Acupuncture brings relief from fibromyalgia

18 February, 2016

Natural Health News — Just a few sessions of individually tailored acupuncture could lessen pain and improve function and quality of life, in people with the chronic pain condition, fibromyalgia.

The beneficial effects of just 9 weeks of treatment were still evident a year later, according to the study in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.

Fibromyalgia is primarily characterised by chronic widespread pain that is associated with fatigue, disordered sleep patterns, and/or depression. It affects up to one in 20 people.

What you need to know

» Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that affects up to 1 in 20 people. It can be managed but not cured.

» A new study looked at the effects of a personalised acupuncture programme on symptoms such as pain, fatigue and depression as well as overall quality of life.

» Just 9 weekly session produced significant benefits for sufferers and the benefits were long lasting, in some cases still evident after 1 year.

The evidence suggests that 90% of people who have fibromyalgia try some form of complementary therapy, including massage, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture.

Most of the data on the pros and cons of acupuncture to alleviate symptoms have been based on clinical trials of standard, rather than individually tailored, treatment.

Personalised acupuncture

In a bid to find out if a personalised approach would make a difference, the researchers compared individually tailored acupuncture treatment with sham treatment in 153 adults, all of whom had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Both the real and simulated treatments, to which participants were randomly assigned, were provided in nine weekly sessions, each lasting 20 minutes. Participants continued to take the usual drugs they had been prescribed to alleviate symptoms (painkillers and antidepressants).

To evaluate the impact of both approaches, participants were asked about perceived levels of pain, depression, and health related quality of life (physical and mental), and then again 10 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months after the treatment.

They were also asked about changes in the overall impact of their condition, using a standardised Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) designed to capture information on all the related problems that occur with fibromyalgia such as work difficulty, pain, fatigue, morning tiredness, stiffness, anxiety and depression.

Less pain, better quality of life

Analysis of the results showed that 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 simulated treatment.

Significant differences persisted after a year, with an average fall of 20% in the pain score among those treated with the real thing compared with just over 6% for those given the simulated treatment.

FIQ data showed significant differences between the two groups at all three time points, with those received the tailored acupuncture showing the greatest benefits.

Other aspects of pain intensity, including pressure pain threshold and the number of tender points also improved significantly more in the group given real acupuncture after 10 weeks, as did measures of fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

These differences were also evident after a year, although the researchers caution that some participants were using higher levels of antidepressants after a year, which may have artificially inflated the positive outcomes.

Side effects were few and mild, prompting the researchers to suggest that tailored acupuncture may be a viable treatment for fibromyalgia.