Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia: What Does Science Say?
Acupuncture for fibromyalgia is proposed as an adjunctive treatment. This means that it’s a complement to other treatment, and not the only solution.
At present, even though a cure for fibromyalgia has not yet been found, it has been possible to provide several therapeutic strategies – which are also completely customizable – to help patients cope with it and maintain a good quality of life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, the use of some drugs (such as painkillers and antidepressants), combined with regular exercise (either aerobic or low-impact), good sleep hygiene, and good lifestyle habits have proven to be helpful and very positive.
Acupuncture for fibromyalgia can be a good complement to all of this. But why? Let’s see what the science says about it.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine used to promote holistic wellness. To do this, it stimulates certain areas of the body (or points) by inserting fine needles into the skin.
In the past, stimulation was believed to help channel the body’s energy and bring it back into harmony, and this is what contributed to the relief.
Today, even though some people maintain the traditional approach, there are also others who believe that the stimulation acts on the nervous system (peripheral and central), the endogenous opioid system, the pain inhibition system, the spinal glial cells, and the inflammatory response of the immune system.
Thus, in general terms, it can be said that acupuncture helps reduce inflammation and stimulate the release of the body’s own painkillers: endorphins. Therefore, it’s often said that it has a certain analgesic effect.
Acupuncture for fibromyalgia
As we already mentioned, in principle, acupuncture for fibromyalgia has been proposed as an adjunct to treatment to help to provide pain relief, as well as as a measure to improve mood, especially in patients with depression.
However, it has also been proposed as a method to help moderate drug use and relevant iatrogenesis, as stated in an article published in the International Journal of Acupuncture (article in Spanish).
What research says
Regarding the benefits of acupuncture for fibromyalgia, the Cochrane Organization shares the following:
- For relief of pain and stiffness, fatigue, and sleep problems, acupuncture with electrical stimulation may be better than needle insertion alone.
- Acupuncture is likely to improve the pain-relieving effect of medications used in treatment, as well as exercise.
- When applied without electrical stimulation, it doesn’t appear to relieve pain or contribute to general well-being (sleep, fatigue, etc.).
- Acupuncture is unlikely to improve physical function.
- Adverse reactions are generally reported by patients, but these usually last a day or less and are mild in intensity.
- Its effects seem to last up to a month, but it doesn’t last any longer.
- Given that the evidence is limited, more extensive research is needed to clarify aspects related to its efficacy.
Acupuncture for fibromyalgia is a proposal that should continue to be studied, as there’s still a lack of data to help us really understand its effectiveness.
Dr. Javier Rivera, fibromyalgia specialist and member of the Spanish Society of Rheumatology, explains that around 70% of patients resort to acupuncture and other treatments (such as chiropractic and osteopathy) as a complement to their regular treatment.
Likewise, he explains that complementary therapies – including acupuncture – “haven’t shown a clear efficacy in fibromyalgia“. The studies carried out have flaws in terms of methodology, the samples are limited, and the evidence isn’t often very significant.
For all of the above, he recommends assessing in consultation the advantages and disadvantages that each option offers, in order to maintain a realistic perspective on its effectiveness.
If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and are considering trying acupuncture, we recommend that you discuss it with your treating physician. The professional will always be able to offer you the information you need to put things in perspective and make the best possible decision.It might interest you...
- Deare JC, Zheng Z, Xue CCL, Liu JP, Shang J, Scott SW, Littlejohn G. Acupuncture for treating fibromyalgia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD007070. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007070.pub2
“La Guía Del Paciente Para El Síndrome de Fatiga Crónica & Fibromialgia.” n.d. ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia Self-Help. Accessed June 8, 2021. http://www.cfsselfhelp.org/library/11-minimizar-brotes.
Sociedad Española de Reumatología. 2020. “Aprendiendo a Convivir Con La Fibromialgia Información Para El Paciente.” https://www.ser.es/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Informacion-pacientes_FM_WEB.pdf.
Varios. 2016. “La Acupuntura Como Alternativa Terapéutica En El Abordaje de La Fibromialgia.” Revista Cubana de Reumatología Revista Cubana de Reumatología 18: 313–20. https://www.medigraphic.com/pdfs/revcubreu/cre-2016/cre163f.pdf.
- Vas, Jorge, Manuela Modesto, Inmaculada Aguilar, Koldo Santos-Rey, Nicolás Benítez-Parejo, and Francisco Rivas-Ruiz. 2016. “Efectos de La Acupuntura En Pacientes Con Fibromialgia: Protocolo de Un Estudio Controlado Aleatorizado.” Revista Internacional de Acupuntura 10 (3): 77–86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acu.2016.07.001.