May 12 is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, a day that recognizes one of the most common and debilitating chronic pain conditions in the United States, currently affecting an estimated 10 million Americans. Research shows that as many as 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia have turned to complementary and alternative medicine to manage their symptoms. Acupuncture, in particular, has become a popular treatment choice due to its holistic approach and low incidence of negative side effects.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does not recognize fibromyalgia as one particular disease. Rather, it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to each individual. Such customized treatment is the hallmark of TCM, allowing patients to experience a wide range of acupuncture points, Chinese herbs, and lifestyle and dietary recommendations. Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia are highly variable from one person to another, a comprehensive treatment program may include a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, psychological or behavioral therapies, medications, exercise, and bodywork.
The June 2007 edition of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings reports on a study that found acupuncture helpful in treating the fatigue and anxiety commonly experienced by fibromyalgia patients. The study lends credence to patients’ belief that nontraditional methods may improve their health. In Mayo’s trial, patients who received acupuncture to counter their fibromyalgia symptoms reported improvement in fatigue and anxiety, among other symptoms. Acupuncture was well tolerated, with minimal side effects.
Furthermore, the September 2009 issue of Journal of NeuroImage reports a University of Michigan study, which is the first to provide evidence that traditional Chinese acupuncture affects the brain’s long-term ability to regulate pain. The study participants included 20 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia for at least a year and experienced pain at least 50 percent of the time. During the study they agreed not to take any new medications for their fibromyalgia pain. In the study, researchers at the U-M Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center showed with brain imaging that acupuncture increased the binding availability of mu-opoid receptors (MOR) in regions of the brain that process and dampen pain signals – specifically the cingulate, insula, caudate, thalamus and amygdala.
Fibromyalgia is a medically unexplained syndrome characterized by chronic widespread pain, a heightened and painful response to pressure, insomnia, fatigue, and depression. While it is most prevalent in women —75-90 percent of the people who have the condition are women —it also occurs in men and children of all ethnic groups. The disorder is often seen in families, among siblings or mothers and their children. The diagnosis is usually made between the ages of 20 to 50 years, but the incidence rises with age so that by age 80, approximately 8% of adults meet the American College of Rheumatology classification of fibromyalgia.
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About American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine
American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) has provided affordable, quality health care to the public and trained professionals in acupuncture, massage and Chinese medicine since 1980. In addition to its graduate curriculum, ACTCM offers continuing education, public education, community outreach and clinical services in acupuncture and herbal medicine. ACTCM has been the recipient of many awards for its curriculum, faculty and clinic, and has been voted “Best of the Bay” by both the San Francisco Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. ACTCM is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and is a private, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.