About 2 percent of the population in this country suffers from fibromyalgia.
It is difficult for conventional Western medicine to diagnose fibromyalgia. There are no lab tests or X-rays to diagnose it.
Fibromyalgia is similar to chronic fatigue syndrome in that it is a collection of symptoms. If a patient exhibits enough of the standard fibromyalgia symptoms, then she/he is diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia means “pain of the muscle fiber.” The most characteristic symptom is a high level of muscle pain. Other symptoms include exhaustion or overwhelming fatigue, sleep disorder and very stiff muscles, especially upon awakening.
Fibromyalgia patients often have depression, anxiety, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Unfortunately, even when fibromyalgia is diagnosed, few treatments address the actual problem. Patients complain of depression and may be treated with anti-depressants. Insomnia is common, so sleep medications often are prescribed. Exercise is recommended, and pain medications or trigger-point injections are often used.
Fibromyalgia can be diagnosed when 11 out of 18 specific areas of the body are tender to touch.
Many of these locations happen to be acupuncture points on the energy meridians mapped in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) charts.
According to this 3,000-year-old medical model, energy or qi (“chee”) circulates through our bodies along specific pathways, connecting all organs and tissues. Efficient energy flow has potential to create a high functioning mind, body and spirit.
When the flow becomes altered, the individual can experience any number of symptoms, many corresponding to the Western medical diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
TCM says the quality of meridian energy is healthiest when it is unobstructed and abundant, nourishing the entire body with fresh resources. It is likened to water in a living river, where the water is continuously refreshed with new water.
However, when the flow of energy is diminished, blocked or deviated, symptoms related to fibromyalgia can appear. The TCM-trained acupuncturist interviews the patient and gathers information regarding all aspects of their health. This information is helpful to determine where energy flow in their body is hampered and where to place the very fine, sterile needles to restore the system to normal.The goal of the plan is to eliminate symptoms while addressing the root cause.
Each TCM patient with fibromyalgia may have a unique root cause of symptoms. Examples are liver qi stagnation and spleen qi deficiency.
The liver in TCM is responsible for controlling the flow of qi, blood and emotions. If this liver is not doing its job, the rest of the body is not getting proper nourishment. Muscles and tendons become stiff. This can lead to depression, anger, anxiety and insomnia. The treatment plan would be to course liver qi.
The spleen in TCM transforms food into blood and qi. Poor eating habits, over-concentration and worry can weaken the spleen energy leading to fatigue, digestion problems and shortness of breath. The treatment plan would be to tone spleen qi.
Typically, patients would have one acupuncture treatment a week for about four weeks, each visit assessing and addressing the progress towards eliminating symptoms. Treatment continues at a frequency that continues to show improvement and maintain results achieved.