If you have fibromyalgia, you know how debilitating the chronic pain can be. It’s particularly bad when it disrupts your sleep and you suffer from depression. You’ve probably tried a number of medications and treatments. Some may have helped; others may have felt like a waste of time and money. There may be some you’ve never even bothered with, expecting a similarly lackluster experience.
That may have been your perception of acupuncture, particularly if you’re familiar with some of the early research on this method as a treatment for fibromyalgia. Many of the studies have had underwhelming results. However, to conduct these studies easily, researchers have typically prescribed a standard treatment method to all participants in the studies.
But acupuncture treatment shouldn’t be standardized. It should be personalized to your individual situation. So a new study decided to see if personalized acupuncture treatment was more effective for fibromyalgia sufferers.
The 153 participants were split into two groups. Each group received a treatment – real, personalized acupuncture or a sham treatment – for nine weeks, with one 20-minute session per week. The patients continued to take any painkillers and antidepressants their doctor had prescribed.
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The researchers asked the participants about their levels of pain, depression, and quality of life before treatment and at the 10-week, six-month, and one-year mark. Right after the treatment ended, both groups reported a drop in pain. But while the simulated group’s scores only went down by 27%, the real group’s scores dipped by an average of 41%. The researchers also assessed the impact of fibromyalgia on the participants’ lives, using a standard questionnaire. A year after the treatment ended, the acupuncture group was reporting a decrease in impact of 22%, while the simulated group reported just a 5% decrease.
Those receiving acupuncture also experienced benefits in their pressure pain thresholds, number of tender points, and levels of fatigue, anxiety and depression. These benefits had lasted the full year.
Since acupuncture doesn’t usually have any side effects, it’s definitely worth a try. It works for fibromyalgia pain, but it also works for other types of pain.
If you’ve assumed it would be ineffective, this research may convince you otherwise. You just need to be sure your treatment is executed by a “real” acupuncturist and therefore personalized to you. Choose a practitioner certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The NCCAOM’s website http://mx.nccaom.org/FindAPractitioner.aspx can help you do this. If you’re concerned about the cost, try to find your local acupuncture school. They often offer discounts as students perfect their techniques and are supervised by seasoned and experienced acupuncturists.
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Jorge Vas, Koldo Santos-Rey, Reyes Navarro-Pablo, Manuela Modesto, Inmaculada Aguilar, M Ángeles Campos, José Francisco Aguilar-Velasco, Milagrosa Romero, Patricia Párraga, Vanesa Hervás, Olalla Santamaría, Carmen Márquez-Zurita, Francisco Rivas-Ruiz. Acupuncture for fibromyalgia in primary care: a randomised controlled trial. Acupuncture in Medicine, 2016; acupmed-2015-010950 DOI: 10.1136/acupmed-2015-010950