At some stage in their treatment, many people diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (FM) are recommended, or referred for, acupuncture. But is this simply a case of desperation – ‘we’ve tried everything else so what harm can it do?’ – or is there some solid scientific foundation for including acupuncture in the FM treatment arsenal?
What is acupuncture?
To most of us who have never undergone acupuncture, our knowledge of this treatment is limited to two primary facts: its origin lies in traditional Chinese medicine and it involves needles.
Practitioners say that acupuncture corrects imbalances in the flow of energy within us through the stimulation of certain points on the body, usually, but not always, with a fine needle penetrating the skin. The technique is used to treat a host of conditions, including pain. One theory for its efficacy is that acupuncture results in the body producing natural pain-relieving endorphins.
Unlike many complimentary therapies, in the UK acupuncture is recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), but only for the treatment of migraine and chronic tension-type headaches.
Can it be effective in treating FM?
The short answer is ‘possibly’.
There have been a host of clinical studies and many have reported some evidence for the efficacy of acupuncture as a treatment for FM, but a significant number of these studies have subsequently been criticised for their poor quality. It has therefore been helpful that an independent Cochrane Review has identified and analysed the results of nine of the better quality clinical trials, with a total of 395 participants. It concluded:
“When compared with the group not receiving acupuncture, the acupuncture treatment group improved in terms of pain, global well‐being, fatigue and stiffness, but not sleep.”
However, in terms of the longevity of any improvement, the reviewers went on to state that:
“Measurement of treatment effects was within one month of the end of treatment. Many effects of acupuncture were short‐lasting and not maintained at six to seven‐month follow‐ups.”
First hand experience
We have been instructed recently by Philip, who developed FM following a road traffic accident. Philip has experience of acupuncture and this is his account:
“Acupuncture was recommended by several people in the online forum I belong to. I spoke to my GP about it and was surprised he was so supportive and was able to recommend somebody, although it would be private and I’d have to pay. I have to admit I was still very sceptical myself but I was reassured by the acupuncturist, Angela, who is also a qualified physiotherapist, which is a bit more mainstream.
“What really surprised me is the large number of needles she used which she placed in my feet, legs, tummy and even in my forehead. Despite looking like a pin cushion, it really didn’t hurt. Once the needles were in, Angela put on some very relaxing music and left me for about half an hour. I have to admit that I did start to doze off a bit. Afterwards, I felt a bit tingly all over my body, but this wasn’t unpleasant and my pain was definitely less. Interestingly, she told me not to drink anything cold that day and another appointment was arranged for the following week. In total I had 12 appointments.
“Overall, my pain was less, not all the time but most of the time. I also found that my hot flushes and the night sweats weren’t nearly as bad. However, I had to stop going as money was really tight and after only a few weeks my pain and flushes were back to usual so it definitely wasn’t a long-term solution for me. In fairness though, Angela did tell me that at the start. Fortunately, I’ve now had an interim payment and have arranged to start the sessions again.”