How to Treat Fibromyalgia with Acupuncture

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 If you feel fatigued and have tenderness or pain throughout your body, you may have fibromyalgia (FM). While there's no single diagnostic test for FM, your doctor may look for tender points on your body which are particularly sensitive to touch and are often present in FM. Your doctor will also need to rule out other conditions that might have similar symptoms. Regardless of if you get a medical diagnosis, you can try acupuncture to relieve the pain of FM. Acupuncture is an ancient healing technique that uses very fine needles to stimulate different energy points on the body.

Determining If Acupuncture Is A Good Treatment For You

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    Recognize the benefits of acupuncture. Studies have shown that acupuncture can relieve the pain of FM although it's difficult to measure its effectiveness.[1] Both manual acupuncture (where needles are inserted into the skin) and electroacupuncture (EA) can relieve pain, fatigue, and sleep issues that are caused by FM.[2] [3] EA uses a very slight electrical charge to stimulate pressure points.
    • Acupuncture is most effective when used with other treatments for FM. There are very few side effects.

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    Consider whether acupuncture is right for you. Although acupuncture is widely practiced, people with certain conditions shouldn't use acupuncture to treat fibromyalgia. Avoid acupuncture if you're pregnant since it could start labor. You should also avoid electroacupuncture if you have a pacemaker since the electrical pulse can cause problems with your pacemaker. And, don't use acupuncture if you have a bleeding disorder since this could increase bleeding and bruising from the needles.[4]
    • If you're still planning to use acupuncture if you have a bleeding disorder, you should let your acupuncturist know whether or not you're taking blood thinners like warfarin.
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    Prepare for side effects. Most acupuncture done by licensed professionals is low risk. But, you may experience mild side effects like bleeding or bruising where the needles were inserted. More serious side effects include organ damage from needles that were inserted too far or infection.[5]
    • Infection is possible if the acupuncturist doesn't use sterile needles or change needles between patients. This makes the spread of Hepatitis possible.
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    Think about using acupuncture along with other treatments. Many people find that acupuncture relieves pain caused by fibromyalgia, but you may want to try while using other treatments. It's a safe complementary treatment, meaning it won't interfere with any other medications or treatments you're using.
    • Consider seeing an acupuncturist who takes a holistic, integrative approach to acupuncture. For instance, they may combine acupuncture with Western medicine, herbal medicine, and dietary changes.[6]
    • You should feel relief within a few weeks (2 to 3). But, if you don't, acupuncture probably won't treat your fibromyalgia and you should try a different treatment.[7]

Getting Acupuncture For Fibromyalgia

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    Find an acupuncturist. Choose an acupuncturist who has experience in FM since it is a complicated condition. The acupuncturist should be licensed and have extensive training in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).[8] You can ask questions about the acupuncturist's: experience with FM, training experience, and success rates, as well as how you might expect to feel after the therapy.
    • Be sure to choose an acupuncturist who is licensed in your state, as state licenses don't transfer.[9]
    • Traditional Chinese Medicine is an ancient form of treatment that includes herbs and mind and body therapies to treat health problems. Studies have shown that TCM is effective in treating FM.[10]
    • Consider choosing an acupuncturist who specializes in motor point acupuncture, which uses electric stimulation to help restore balances within the muscles in your body.[11]
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    Discuss your symptoms with the acupuncturist. Understand that the pressure or energy points used in acupuncture are different from patient to patient, depending on the individual's symptoms. For this reason, it's important to talk with your acupuncturist about what symptoms are troubling you before you have the treatment. This can help your acupuncturist create a treatment plan for you.
    • According to TCM and acupuncture, FM is considered to be a " damp" and "cold" syndrome with weakened spleen and/or liver energy. This is just a different interpretation of organ function. It doesn't necessarily mean that your liver is not functioning well.
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    Prepare for your appointment. Try to be calm before your acupuncture treatment and wear loose clothing to make it easy for the acupuncturist to position the needles. You should also eat wisely before your treatment. Don't be so full that you're uncomfortable, but you shouldn't be so hungry that you're feeling faint. Instead, eat a light snack a few hours before the session.[12]
    • Avoid drinking caffeine or smoking before acupuncture. These can stimulate your body, instead of helping it to rest.
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    Get acupuncture for liver qi stagnation. One common treatment pattern for fibromyalgia treats liver qi (energy) stagnation. The "four gates" pattern can relieve the stress and pain that comes from fibromyalgia by improving energy and blood circulation.[13]
    • The "four gates" pattern is the right and left side acupuncture points for Liver 3 (Taichong) and Large Intestine 4 (Hegu).
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    Do acupuncture for kidney deficiency. If you you have a sore lower back and restless leg syndrome, your acupuncturist might use a pattern to treat for kidney deficiency. Your acupuncturist may also want to treat qi and blood stagnation and deficiencies that can be causing you pain.
    • Your acupuncturist will probably use acupuncture point Stomach (ST) 29 to treat these pains. ST 29 is on your lower abdomen, near your navel.[14]
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    Take it easy after your treatment. Take care of yourself after your acupuncture treatment. Avoid exercising or overexerting yourself, since your body needs rest, even if it's feeling better. If you want, you can apply a hot pad for more pain relief. You should also drink plenty of water to flush toxins out of your body.
    • If you get pain relief from acupuncture, get treatments once or twice a week.[15]

Dealing With Fibromyalgia

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    Determine if you have fibromyalgia. Although there's no diagnostic test to determine if you have FM, the American College of Rheumatology lists fatigue, waking unrefreshed, cognitive (memory or thought) problems, and a history of widespread pain that lasts more than 3 months as the basis for diagnosis.[16] Other symptoms can include:[17]
    • Morning stiffness
    • Headaches
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
    • Painful menstrual periods
    • Numbness or tingling of the extremities
    • Restless legs syndrome
    • Temperature sensitivity
    • Sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights
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    Take medication. Once your doctor has diagnosed FM, you may be put on medication to relieve pain. These medications work by blocking or changing the levels of brain chemical messengers that signal pain. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to relieve sleep problems associated with FM. For some people, antidepressant medications are effective with relieving sleeplessness and pain. Other medications approved for treating FM include:[18]
    • Duloxetine
    • milnacipran
    • pregabalin
    • gabapentin
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    Try physical therapy. Exercise can be very helpful in reducing pain for some people. Unfortunately, if you have FM you might have trouble exercising. But, you should see an improvement after 6 weeks of exercising. Try to exercise at least 2 or 3 times a week.[19] Stick to low-impact aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, biking, or yoga.[20]
    • You may want to work with a physical therapist before increasing your physical activity level. The physical therapist can help you improve your range of motion.
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    Try cognitive behavioral therapy. Work with a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to reduce your stress and anxiety surrounding FM. Your therapist will have you consider how you react to pain, fatigue, and stress. The goal of CBT is to become aware and change your mindset.
    • Positive distraction is another tactic of CBT. For example, if you're feeling pain, try to distract yourself by doing something you enjoy like watching a movie.[21]
    • For example, you may feel like you're not handling FM well and that you'll never be able to cope with it. With CBT, you can change that negative thought into a coping statement. For example, you could remind yourself that trying new treatments and therapies is coping with FM.[22]
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    Practice relaxation techniques. Since you never know when your FM will flare up, you should be prepared to deal with pain. It can be helpful to know how to relax yourself, preventing health problems caused by stress. You might want to do guided imagery, where someone plays music and says words or phrases to guide your mind to a relaxed state.
    • You can also practice controlled breathing. Slowly breath in through your nose and gradually exhale through your open mouth. Repeat this until you feel calm.[23]
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    Pace your activity level. It can be easy to overdo things on days when you feel well. To avoid getting in the cycle of overacting, feeling pain, and resting start to pace your activities. Instead, you should be following a cycle of activity, rest, activity, rest, and so on.[24]
    • For example, if you have a project you need to do, break it up into several days and alternate with days of rest.
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    Improve your sleep habits. Stress and pain of FM may make it difficult to sleep, but there are things you can do to improve your sleep. Create a healthy sleep routine by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. Only use your bed for sleep and sex. You should also create a restful sleep environment (comfortable bed and room temperature).[25]
    • Avoid stimulants (like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol) before bed. These can make it harder to go to sleep or remain asleep.
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    Try controlled writing. Some studies have shown that writing about your feelings every day (written emotional disclosure), can reduce symptoms of FM (especially stress). Take time to write about your emotional state every day for several months in order to see some relief.
    • Although the link between controlled writing and improvement in FM has been made, more research is needed to understand it.[26]

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