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  • Writer's pictureDr. Monica L. Hilton, DACM, LAc

Relieve Fibromyalgia Pain with TCM

Many believe fibromyalgia is a new disorder, but it has been evaluated and reviewed for over 400 years. Although fibromyalgia has a long history of investigation, there hasn’t been much progress in determining the exact cause of fibromyalgia or the best form of treatment to manage its symptoms. Acupuncture is an effective form of treatment for fibromyalgia; however, patients tend not to seek acupuncture treatment until several years after drug therapy has failed to relieve their symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at fibromyalgia and how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a complex pain disorder characterized by widespread chronic pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and psychological distress. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA), fibromyalgia affects an estimated 10 million people in the United States and an estimated 3-6% of the world population. The majority of fibromyalgia patients are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 with women accounting for 75-90% of all cases.

The pain associated with fibromyalgia is often described as deep, burning, throbbing, stabbing, and gnawing. Fatigue associated with fibromyalgia can happen at random and range from mild to severe to exhaustion, making it difficult to get out of bed. Other classic symptoms of fibromyalgia include tenderness to touch, migraine or tension headaches, jaw pain, morning stiffness, ringing in the ears, problems with memory or thinking clearly, known as fibro fog, depression, anxiety, and digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms can fluctuate in intensity at any time. Severe fibromyalgia symptoms can be extremely debilitating and interfere with an individual’s normal daily activities. Fibromyalgia flare-ups may be triggered by changes in a patient’s sleep pattern, emotional upset, excess sugar intake, a woman’s menstrual period, or a decrease in the body’s iron levels.

The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown but it is believed to be due to or triggered by one or more of the following factors:

  • Genetics – fibromyalgia tends to run in families - there may be a genetic mutation that makes individuals more sensitive to pain

  • Emotional or physical abuse/trauma - many patients with fibromyalgia have a history of emotional or physical abuse like childhood abuse or sexual abuse - they may have also experienced some form of trauma like a car accident or witnessed a terrifying event

  • Other illnesses/infections – certain illnesses like Epstein-barre or the flu can trigger the onset of fibromyalgia.

How is fibromyalgia treated?

Current treatment for fibromyalgia includes drug therapy such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), cognitive behavioral therapy, and non-drug therapies like exercise. Many patients undergoing drug therapy are still in pain and see little to no change in their other symptoms. Ninety-one percent of fibromyalgia patients have tried some form of complementary and alternative medicine. This implies that fibromyalgia patients need supplementary care as the current standard of care does not fully address their needs. Fibromyalgia is not a one-size-fits-all disorder; therefore, patients need more than a one-size-fits-all form of treatment. That’s where acupuncture and TCM fit in! Acupuncture is an effective form of treatment for fibromyalgia; however, patients tend not to seek acupuncture treatment until years later, after drug therapy has failed to relieve their symptoms.

TCM and Fibromyalgia

TCM is one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world dating back over four thousand years and consists of a variety of methods designed to restore health and prevent illness. While acupuncture is one of the most recognized forms of treatment used, TCM also includes Chinese Herbal Medicine, Cupping, Moxibustion, Gua Sha, TCM Nutrition, Tui Na, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong.

Acupuncture works by initiating a healing response from the body. It prompts the body to release chemicals and hormones that dilate the blood vessels, regulate the contraction of smooth muscle, and promote blood circulation to restore normal body function. Through research, acupuncture has been found to stimulate the immune system, increase blood circulation, improve digestion, calm the nervous system, regulate hormones, and reduce the sensation of pain.

In TCM, diseases are classified by category and further differentiated into medical patterns based on the patient’s signs and symptoms. Fibromyalgia falls under the disease category of Ji Bi syndrome or muscle impediment, which presents as soreness, numbness, and muscle pain. Fibromyalgia can be further differentiated into seven Chinese medicine patterns based on the patient’s symptoms, tongue, and pulse.

At the core of fibromyalgia is the Chinese medicine pattern Liver-Spleen Disharmony. Liver-Spleen Disharmony may be caused by stress, anger, unfulfilled desires, excessive thinking, worry, anxiety, and a poor diet. Some of the main symptoms of Liver-Spleen Disharmony include irritability, depression, alternating diarrhea and constipation, abdominal distention or pain, fatigue, poor appetite, edema, cold hands and feet, chest pain, PMS, easy bruising, dizziness upon standing, and a pale complexion.

TCM treatment for fibromyalgia usually involves a combination of treatment methods all focused on strengthening the body, promoting qi and blood circulation, relaxing the mind, and improving sleep. Depending on the severity of the patient’s condition as well as their underlying state of health it could take several weeks before they can see a significant difference in their symptoms.

What Can You Do?

Fibromyalgia treatment requires a team effort along with self-care to achieve optimal results. Here are few things you can do to help the healing process:

  • Seek out an acupuncturist who specializes in fibromyalgia treatment

  • Rest – try to maintain a regular sleep schedule to reduce pain and fatigue

  • Exercise 30 minutes a day - it may be difficult at first but the more you move the better you’ll feel

  • Find ways to reduce stress with activities like tai chi, yoga, or meditation

  • Stay hydrated and follow a healthy balanced diet - limit your consumption of refined sugars, processed foods, fried foods, and alcohol.

Thanks for stopping by! 😊 If you know someone with fibromyalgia feel free to share this blog with them.

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