Study: Acupuncture Helps Fibromyalgia

Greatest Benefits Seen in Pain, Anxiety, and Fatigue

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Medical News

Reviewed By Brunilda  Nazario, MD
on Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Aug. 24, 2005 -- Acupuncture significantly improves fibromyalgia symptoms, according to a study by Mayo Clinic scientists.

The biggest improvements were seen in pain, anxiety, and fatigue. "However, activity and physical function levels did not change," write David Martin, MD, PhD, and colleagues.

Their findings were presented in Sydney, Australia, at the International Association for the Study of Pain's 11th World Congress on Pain.

About Acupuncture and Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome of chronic pain. It causes widespread pain and tenderness in the muscles and soft tissue (including tender points) as well as sleep problems, fatigue, and other symptoms.

Acupuncture has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It involves inserting needles in strategic parts of the body to improve the flow of what practitioners call chi, or vital energy said to travel through the body on energy pathways called meridians.

In recent decades, acupuncture has become more popular in the West, where it is also getting research attention for a number of conditions, including pain treatment.

Acupuncture Study

Martin's study included 50 fibromyalgia patients whose symptoms hadn't improved with other treatments.

Half of the patients got six acupuncture sessions over two or three weeks. The other patients got the same schedule of fake acupuncture treatments.

Those who got true acupuncture had notably bigger improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms than those who got fake acupuncture, write the researchers.

Results were based on questionnaires completed before the study, immediately after treatment, and one and seven months later. The largest benefit was seen one month after the treatments ended, the researchers note. They write that acupuncture was well tolerated, with minimal side effects.

Less Fatigue, Anxiety

In a Mayo Clinic news release, Martin says, "This study shows there is something real about acupuncture and its effects on fibromyalgia.

"We expected the acupuncture to improve the pain. We didn't really expect the largest benefit to be in fatigue or anxiety."

The lack of change in activity or physical function "doesn't surprise me, as we see this pattern in other chronic pain problems," Martin continues.

"You can relieve pain, but it's a lot harder to prompt activity changes. A chronically ill person needs more than symptom relief to resume a normal lifestyle. We're now beginning to work on that problem," he says.

Participants were moderately debilitated by fibromyalgia, according to the news release. "Many have given up work, a lot of recreational activities, and made adjustments in their lives," says Martin. "They have had a significant psychological burden as a result of the loss of these activities; it's become part of their identities."

Researcher's Advice

Martin suggests that patients interested in acupuncture ask their doctors about it.

"Many physicians are open to complementary medical techniques and can refer you to qualified practitioners in your area. There are also excellent resources on the Internet from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine," says Martin.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

Opposite Finding Reported Earlier

In July, another acupuncture study yielded different results. That report appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It compared acupuncture with three different kinds of fake acupuncture.

In that study, treatments were done twice a week for three months in 100 people with fibromyalgia. The researchers reported no advantage for true acupuncture. They also noted that the study might have been too small to pick up on differences between the groups.

Martin's study was also small, with 50 patients. It could serve as a model for future acupuncture trials, write Martin and colleagues.

SOURCES: International Association for the Study of Pain's 11th World Congress on Pain, Sydney, Australia, Aug. 21-26, 2005. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: "Fibromyalgia -- Topic Overview." WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: "Acupuncture - Topic Overview." News release, Mayo Clinic. WebMD Medical News: "Study: Acupuncture No Help for Fibromyalgia."

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved


The 14 Most Common Causes of Fatigue See Slideshow

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors