Acupuncture found lacking for fibromyalgia

Reuters Health is reporting on a new study examining the treatment of fibromyalgia with acupuncture. Indeed, acupuncture may provide some temporary pain relief for people with fibromyalgia, but does not help with fatigue, sleep problems, or physical function, according to a new research review. However, the results are too inconsistent to recommend acupuncture as a treatment fibromyalgia, the reviewers conclude.

Fibromyalgia, a debilitating pain syndrome that affects an estimated 2 to 4 percent of the population, is characterized by chronic pain, fatigue and difficulty sleeping. It’s a somewhat mysterious condition with no clear-cut cause.

Winfried Hauser of the Klinikum Saarbrucken in Germany and colleagues reviewed seven randomized controlled trials of acupuncture that included a total of 385 people with fibromyalgia. The study subjects were mostly white middle-aged women.

All of the studies used traditional Chinese acupuncture, where fine needles are inserted into specific points in the skin. In addition, two of the studies used electroacupuncture, where the practitioner fits the needles with clips that are attached to a small device that delivers a continuous electrical impulse to stimulate the acupuncture point. Three of the studies used control groups with various kinds of sham or simulated acupuncture, and one compared simulated acupuncture to no treatment.

While the investigators found “strong evidence” that acupuncture relieves fibromyalgia pain, they caution that the results were too inconsistent to recommend it for the management of the condition.

They came to this conclusion mainly because, in one of the seven studies, sham and simulated acupuncture yielded better results than real acupuncture treatment. Furthermore, the authors found that acupuncture-related pain relief only occurred right after treatment, and did not last until the next follow-up.

“Choosing appropriate control conditions in clinical acupuncture trials on chronic pain syndromes is a particularly difficult problem,” Hauser noted in an email to Reuters Health.

“Acupuncture is an effective treatment for several painful conditions, and most acupuncture therapists achieve good results for treatment. However, in most studies on acupuncture and pain, there is no difference between acupuncture and the control condition (often sham or minimal acupuncture),” the investigator added.

Despite this lack of strong evidence for acupuncture in treating fibromyalgia, the authors acknowledge that the treatment is still popular among patients.

They therefore recommend that further studies be undertaken, including larger, multi-center studies; studies involving comparisons with traditional medical treatments; and different forms and intensities of stimulation (i.e., manual vs. electric stimulation).

You can read more about acupressure and acupuncture in my book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook:

  • You can read about and order the book here.
  • You can read the Table of Contents here.
  • You can read a sample chapter here.
I’m keeping busy as a bee as the Lord has been pleased to call me to a number of works:
1) Family Medicine – I have the privilege of serving patients 2-3 half days per week (when I’m in town) at Oak Springs Family Medicine. I love being able to pray with patients and share my faith with them.
2) Writing – I continue to write. My newest health book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People came out in September 2009. I’ve finished my first novel, with co-author Paul McCusker (of Adventures in Odyssey and Radio Theater fame). The book (Time Scene Investigators: The Gabon Virus) was released in August 2009. The sequel (Time Scene Investigators: The Influenza Bomb) should be out the summer of 2010. I’ve also been contracted to write my first two solo novels (The Hazel Creek Series). I find incredible joy and satisfaction in writing.
3) Teaching – I have the honor of being called to teach, as a Visiting Professor, at a Christian Family Medicine Residency Program in Tulsa (In His Image Family Medicine Residency). I go there for a week every 2-3 months. It’s an encouragement to be able to work with these bright young physicians, many of whom are committed to life-long overseas medical mission work in the very poorest of countries.
4) Speaking of Missions –Barb and I continue to invest time each summer volunteering at Christian camps in the wilderness of Colorado (Kanakuk and Young Life’s Crooked Creek Ranch).
5) Medical Journalism – I still review health headlines and medical issues on my blog (www.DrWalt.com). It’s a real joy for me.
6) Grandparenting – this is the funnest job of all. Scott, our youngest, and his wife, Jennifer, had Anna Katherine on 3/6/08 and Sarah Elisabeth on 10/05/09. We are both smitten.
7) Adoption – Last, but not least, we’ve been adopted by a stray cat. Barb has named him Jackson Lee Larimore, but calls him Jack. He’s made himself a welcome part of the family and sits on my lap while I write. Occasionally he’ll step on the keyboard to suggest a correction!
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3 Responses to Acupuncture found lacking for fibromyalgia

  1. Mary Matthews says:

    Like the article on FM and have to agree. Massage gives as much or more relief of pain and helps with joint tenderness and relaxes me so rest/sleep feels more tangible. Thanks for the info Walt!

  2. Dr. Walt says:

    Thanks, Mary. It’s good to hear from you.

    BTW, Health.com has a nice article on “How to Live—and Thrive—With Fibromyalgia.” You can find it here.

    It begins, “Fibromyalgia is a disease that often causes pain, sleep disturbances, and depression in its patients. Unfortunately, little is known about the cause of the disease, and it can take three to five years to diagnose, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. However a fibromyalgia diagnosis isn’t a death sentence. Read how these six fibro patients are living—and thriving—with the disease.”

  3. Diego Gray says:

    Acupuncture helps me in my allergies. I have hay fever ever since i was a kid.

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