Mayo Clinic Study Finds Acupuncture
Relieves Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
MAYO CLINIC - ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Fibromyalgia patients treated with
six sessions of acupuncture experienced significant
symptomatic improvement compared to a group given
simulated acupuncture sessions according to a new Mayo
Clinic study. The findings will be presented at the
11th World Congress of the International Association
for the Study of Pain in Sydney, Australia.
"This study shows there is something real about
acupuncture and its effects on fibromyalgia," says
David Martin, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist
and the study's lead investigator. "Our study was
performed on patients with moderate to severe
fibromyalgia. It's my speculation that if acupuncture
works for these patients with recalcitrant
fibromyalgia -- where previous treatments had not
provided satisfactory relief -- it would likely work
for many of the millions of fibromyalgia patients."
Acupuncture could fill a gap in available therapies for
the disease as something additive to what medications
already can provide, says Dr. Martin. "There's not a
cure available, so patients are often left somewhat
frustrated by continuing pain and fatigue," he says.
"Acupuncture is one of the few things shown to be
effective for these symptoms. It may be particularly
attractive to patients who are unable to take
medications because of intolerable side effects."
The study, conducted by Mayo Clinic physicians
specializing in pain management, included 50 patients
diagnosed with fibromyalgia for whom other
symptom-relief treatments were ineffective. The
patients were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture
or simulated acupuncture and were not informed which
treatment they received; these treatments were
administered in six sessions over two to three weeks.
All patients were given questionnaires before
treatment, immediately after treatment, and at one and
seven months after treatment to determine the degree of
symptoms they experienced and how the disease affected
their daily lives.
Patients who received acupuncture experienced minimal
side effects. Following treatments, symptoms of pain,
fatigue and anxiety were most significantly improved in
the patients given acupuncture. At seven months
post-treatment, the patients' symptoms of pain, anxiety
and fatigue had returned to baseline levels; the
patients experienced the largest improvement at one
month following treatment.
"We expected the acupuncture to improve the pain," says
Dr. Martin. "We didn't really expect the largest
benefit to be in fatigue or anxiety."
Dr. Martin hypothesizes that acupuncture affects
symptoms such as anxiety and fatigue because it may
target the root cause and not the daily symptoms of
fibromyalgia. "In a Western view of medicine, we're
modulating sensory input through acupuncture," he says.
"Whenever there's an input to the nervous system, it
responds and adapts to the input -- sometimes in ways
that are beneficial to patients. This is not so
different from the traditional Eastern explanation of
acupuncture that describes needles as altering the flow
of life energy, called Qi."
The Mayo Clinic researchers noted that although the
patients saw improvement in symptoms which had reduced
activity level, physical function did not increase even
though the patients were less tired and felt less pain.
"This doesn't surprise me, as we see this pattern in
other chronic pain problems: you can relieve pain, but
it's a lot harder to prompt activity changes," says Dr.
Martin. "A chronically ill person needs more than
symptom relief to resume a normal lifestyle. We're now
beginning to work on that problem."
Dr. Martin indicates that he believes the study
patients would have seen sustained improvement with
ongoing acupuncture. "It's a reasonable expectation
that if they received more acupuncture after two to
three months, they would have maintained their
improvement," he says. "Acupuncture usually works for
about three months, and then patients need a
less-intensive treatment session. These patients would
need more acupuncture periodically for as long as they
experience fibromyalgia symptoms."
The patients were unable to guess whether they had been
given the real or the simulated acupuncture. "This was
critical, because this had been a shortcoming of other
previous studies with acupuncture -- the simulated
acupuncture treatments were not believable to the
patients," says Dr. Martin.
He explains that fibromyalgia patients have a nervous
system disorder in which they have a "revved up pain
threshold" which is exacerbated by stress and
inadequate sleep. "You can take blood tests, X-rays,
muscle tests, and you will find nothing abnormal," he
says. "Many fibromyalgia patients suffer suspicion from
their spouses and friends that their symptoms are 'all
in their head' or that they lack sufficient will or
fortitude to meet their obligations to work, family and
friends. Usually it comes as a welcome diagnosis when
these patients learn it's fibromyalgia. Then they can
learn ways to cope with the disorder and gain strength
from sharing with others who have the same problems."
Dr. Martin describes the patients in this study as
moderately debilitated. "Many have given up work, a lot
of recreational activities, and made adjustments in
their lives," he says. "They have had a significant
psychological burden as a result of the loss of these
activities; it's become part of their identities."
Dr. Martin says he'd recommend acupuncture for patients
who are receptive to the concept. The acupuncture used
in this study is available in most communities. Dr.
Martin says that to find a qualified acupuncturist,
"Talk to your doctor. Many physicians are open to
complementary medical techniques and can refer you to
qualified practitioners in your area.
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