Acupuncture Treatment for Fibromyalgia

Acupuncture treatment is used to remove energy blockages & restore body balance to enable self healing. Acupuncture helps people with Fibromyalgia enjoy the benefits of reduced pain, better sleep and relaxation, and over-all health improvements.  Although widespread pain is a common challenge for people with Fibromyalgia, Acupuncture should not result in any increase in pain and indeed has been shown to result in significant reductions in pain.  It is important to ensure that you are seeing a qualified acupuncturist.  Acupuncture is effective because of its ability to decrease the perception of pain (raising the pain threshold in the brain) while simultaneously creating a feeling of well-being.

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Frequently Asked Question about Acupuncture

What is an Acupuncture Session Like?

During your first visit, the acupuncturist will generally ask for a medical history and about your general health and do a visual examination.  Depending on the reason for your visit (ie your complaint) or specific health conditions, the acupuncturist will asks about symptoms and about any other treatments you have received.

A physical examination will generally follow. The licensed acupuncturist will take pulse rate and other vital signs prior to beginning treatment. The needles used are sterilized and disposable (approved by the FDA) to avoid infection.

The acupuncture needles will then be inserted into specific point on your body, depending on your condition and symptoms.  Most people say that the acupuncture needles cause very little discomfort because they are thin and flexible.  The needles may then be stimulated; by being twisted gently, by heat or with low electrical frequencies.  Sessions generally last 20 minute to half an hour for the actual treatment, although you may need to allow up to an extra half hour or 45 minutes for the very first session with a particular acupuncturist.

The Acupuncture treatment can be painless. For some people, the sensation of the insertion of needle is minimal. People who have had acupuncture treatments report feeling different sensations like numbness, warmth & pressure but it is different from pain.  The procedure is so calm and relaxed that patients may fall asleep during acupuncture treatment.

How Long is a Normal Course of Treatment?

The number of sessions needed in acupuncture is dependent on the illness of the person, your individual response to treatment, and other factors like whether the condition is chronic or acute.  In relieving stress, for example, it can be recommended that the patient have one session per week for 5 or 8 treatments until the therapeutic effect is achieved. For treating neck pain or headaches, 10 sessions are common. Each session will take from 20 minutes up to an hour on average, depending again on the reason you are getting acupuncture treatments.

What Does Acupuncture Cost?

Fees for an acupuncture treatment vary depending on the location and practitioner but they will generally  range from $50 to $120 per session. Since the initial treatment is usually longer and includes the diagnostic processes, it will often costs more and then successive sessions will be less expensive.

Is Insurance Coverage Available for Acupuncture Treatment?

Some insurance companies cover acupuncture treatment and stipulate that the practitioner be NCCAOM certified. Many flexible health spending plans will also cover acupuncture and Oriental medicine treatment. You will likely need to speak with your insurance carrier to verify coverage and discuss your options.

How to Select a Good Acupuncturist

Training/Accreditation for Acupuncturists

Generally, to be able to perform acupuncture, the practitioner should be a “licensed acupuncturist”. This is often signified by certain initials after the person’s name:

  • OMD (Oriental Medical Doctor)
  • DOM (Doctor of Oriental Medicine)
  • L.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist), or
  • MAOM (Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine). 

The legal practice of acupuncture varies from state to state in the USA. Most states require the practitioner to be a Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (MAOM) or have a degree that is equivalent and from an institution that is accredited by Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. There are several states that also require Acupuncture practitioners to have documentation from NCCAOM.  Patients are encouraged to refer to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) website since NCCAOM is responsible for administering examinations in Acupuncture and other techniques related to Oriental Medicine.

Practitioners who have passed the licensing process are certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and have the title "Dipl. Ac.” or "Diplomate of Acupuncture".  Their website also has a database of acupuncturists that can be searched.

Physicians who want to include Acupuncture in their practice can take a certifying examination with the American Board of Medical Acupuncture to demonstrate proof of their proficiency in the specialty of medical acupuncture. Physicians who pass the ABMA certifying examination are referred to as Diplomates of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (DABMA) and are considered to be board certified in medical acupuncture

It is recommended that you inquire if the acupuncturist you are considering seeing is licensed in the state where they practice. In cases where the state does not require licensing, you may want to look for an acupuncturist who has been certified by NCCAOM. You can also ask the acupuncturist how many hours of training they have had.  A licensed acupuncturist is required to have more than 3000 hours of training (classroom hours and clinical internship).

History of Acupuncture

Based on archaeological evidence and oral tradition, Acupuncture treatment originated from China. There is no definitive date when acupuncture is known to have started and the history of it is inconclusive, but there are different stories about how Acupuncture was invented. One relates the story of a soldier who suffered from a stiff and painful shoulder for years (what we call now as frozen shoulder). During a battle, he got wounded in the legs by an arrow and the pain in his shoulder disappeared. The miraculous disappearance of pain through poking of arrow on patient’s legs eventually became known and over time, it developed into Acupuncture. It is believed that the time of the Han Dynasty is when Acupuncture stopped using stone needles and shifted to metal.

From China, the practice of Acupuncture eventually expanded to neighboring countries in Asia and eventually to North America and all over the world.  Though acupuncture in the present times is commonly associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are other forms of the Acupuncture such as Korean and Japanese acupuncture.

The first known publication containing the word Acupuncture written in 1683 by Willem ten Rhijne (1647-1700) a Dutch doctor and Botanist, who wrote a first hand account of Acupuncture with this name detailing his experiences and observations of Acupuncture as it was practiced in Japan.  There is some debate about who actually coined the word (some accounts credit Willem ten Rhijne, other accounts credit Jesuit priests with inventing the name) but it seems clear that it comes from the combination of two latin words; acus "needle" (see acuity) and puncture

From historical legends about using arrows and sharpened stones in performing Acupuncture, the methodology has evolved to using thin needles and inserting them into key points on the skin (associated with the meridians and chakras).

Acupuncture is almost the same as Acupressure. The basic difference between the two is that acupuncture therapy uses thin needles to get results while acupressure therapy uses light pressure.   Both treatments aim to restore balance and encourage energy to flow freely to resolve illnesses such as migraines, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and more. 

Theory behind Fibromyalgia Treatment using Acupuncture

Because acupuncture is a modality that is part of traditional Chinese medicine, there are two different explanations for how/why it works to reduce pain for people with Fibromyalgia; one theory from the western medical system and another from the traditional Chinese medical point of view.  Many people with Fibromyalgia are more interested in the numerous studies from both East and West showing that acupuncture IF effective for pain relief for Fibromyalgia than they are concerned about exactly why it works.

From the Traditional Chinese Medical point of view, illnesses and pain are caused by blockages in the energy pathways through your body.  These blockages prevent the flow of qi (or your life force energy) and that reduction in flow of qi causes illness.  Their are multiple meridians in the body which correspond to various organs or groups of organs.  A lack or excess of qi, or blockages in the flow of qi will create health problems.  Acupuncture is said to release or remove these blockages, thus allowing the life energy to flow freely and to heal the problems in the body, including reducing or removing pain and increasing energy and wellness.

Acording to western medical researchers, there is still some uncertainty about why acupuncture is effective for Fibromyalgia and pain relief, although it is mainly accepted that the effects are demonstrable and repeatable.  The theory is that acupuncture may produce complex changes in the brain and body, possibly by stimulating nerve fibers that then send signals to the brain and spinal cord to release certain hormones that block pain and increase a feeling of well-being.  One study used images of the brain to show that acupuncture raises one's pain threshold (and thereby gives long term pain relief) while another experiment used MEG brain scans to show that acupuncture actually deactivates part of your brain's pain matrix.

Research of Fibromyalgia Treatment using Acupuncture

While some people with fibromyalgia may be reluctant to try acupuncture (sometimes due to a fear of the idea of needles), there have been a significant number of studies done related to acupuncture as a treatment for Fibromyalgia.  The vast majority of these show some degree of benefit, in reducing pain or tenderness.  Here is a short sampling of some of those studies, two from the east and one done by the Mayo Clinic:

Survey on clinical evidence of acupuncture therapy for fibromyalgia syndrome (published in 2010)

Summary:  The goal of this study was to "evaluate the clinical effect of acupuncture therapy for fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) by analyzing the available studies so as to provide clinical decision-making reference".  The study rated the results of this analysis depending on the scientific rigour of the underlying trials.  While there was a desire for stronger clinical trials, this analysis concludes that "Acupuncture for FMS has a positive effect, and acupuncture combined with western medicine can strengthen the curative effect."


Effects of acupuncture to treat fibromyalgia: A preliminary randomised controlled trial

Summary:  This study divided participants into two groups; one of whom received five acupuncture treatments and the other group received 10 treatments once a week.  The outcome measures used were pain intensity and the fibromyalgia impact questionnaire (FIQ).  After the fifth week pain intensity decreased for the group receiving more acupuncture treatments and their quality of life improved.  This study concludes that "The present study suggests that acupuncture treatment is effective to relieve pain for FM patients in terms of QoL [Quality of Life] and FIQ [the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire]."


Improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms with acupuncture: results of a randomized controlled trial (Mayo Clinic, 2006)

Summary:  This was a study designed to test the efficacy of acupuncture for fibromyalgia.  It was designed as a prospective, partially blinded, controlled, randomized clinical trial of 50 patients with fibromyalgia, half of whom received true acupuncture, while the other half had simulated acupuncture.  The study concludes that "... acupuncture significantly improved symptoms of fibromyalgia. Symptomatic improvement was not restricted to pain relief and was most significant for fatigue and anxiety."


Stories of Fibromyalgia Treatment using Acupuncture

If you have used acupuncture for fibromyalgia please share your stories here.

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