What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (also called fibromyalgia syndrome or FMS) is a chronic condition which causes pain and tenderness in the muscles, ligaments and tendons all over the body with no obvious signs of inflammation or damage.
It is estimated to affect 2–4% of the population, with a female to male incidence ratio of approximately 9:1. The condition can occur in people of any age, but most commonly develops between the ages of 30 and 60.
People with fibromyalgia can experience a wide range of symptoms, including burning or aching pain in various regions of the body, muscle tenderness and stillness, headaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping and intestinal bowel symptoms.
There is no specific test to detect this disease. Diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and blood tests or X-rays to rule out other health conditions.
What causes fibromyalgia?
The exact cause of fibromyalgia remains unclear, but it is believed to result from the abnormal activation of the brain’s pain processing centres, or the way pain messages are carried and received in the body is disturbed. Common triggering and aggravating factors include:
• Emotional distress
• Sleep disturbances
• Genetic factors
• Low levels of hormones such as noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine
• A viral or bacterial infection
• Changes in the weather
• Spinal problems, injury or trauma
• Inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis
• Metabolic disturbances such as an underactive thyroid
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia has many different symptoms, although the main symptom is widespread pain and tenderness. The symptoms tend to vary from person to person, and will wax and wane over time. The intensity can be mild, moderate or severe. Many people find the symptoms are worst first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The most common symptoms include:
- Pain in various regions of the body, including joints
- Tender points – abnormally sensitive to touch, with certain areas being super-sensitive
- Stiffness or spasm of muscles
- Poor sleep – waking up not refreshed
- Cognitive disorders – problems with memory and concentration, slowed or confused speech
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Other symptoms such as anxiety, depression, felling hot and cold, tinnitus, Irritable or overactive bladder, restless legs, and tingling, numbness, or burning sensations in the hands and feet
Treating fibromyalgia with conventional medicine
According to western medicine, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. Treatment aims to ease the symptoms and improve the quality of life. Management will include a combination of the following:
- Medicines – such as antidepressants, painkillers and medicines to help sleeping
- Lifestyle changes – such as better sleeping habits and relaxation
- Exercise – a gentle exercise program, such as tai chi or swimming, can help to manage symptoms such as pain, fatigue and sleep disturbance
- Nutrition – eating a balanced diet to have better energy levels and improve wellbeing
- Education – such as counselling
Some medications may help reduce the amount of pain and improve sleep in patients with fibromyalgia, however, as soon as the consumption of these medications is stopped, the symptoms will come back. Furthermore, prolonged use of these types of medicines can result in addiction and have potential side-effects.
TCM perspective of fibromyalgia
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, fibromyalgia is caused by blockage in the flow of Qi and blood throughout the pathways in the body.
Qi in TCM is the vital energy that flows through the body’s meridians (specific pathways) and provides nourishment for the entire body. When healthy, an abundant supply of Qi flows freely throughout the body, resulting in pain-free living. If the flow of Qi in the meridians becomes blocked or there is an inadequate supply of Qi, then the body fails to maintain harmony, balance and order, disease follows and the pain starts. TCM theory explains the cause of pain as “where there is blockage in the meridian, there is pain; where there is malnutrition of the area, there is pain”.
According to TCM, fibromyalgia can result from the invasion of pathogenic wind, cold, and dampness affecting the body’s muscles, tendons, and joints, creating obstruction and causing pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. Common factors that can predispose a person to this condition include stress, overwork, lack of adequate sleep, imbalanced nutrition, genetic tendency to weakness, and insufficient exercise.
Treating fibromyalgia with TCM
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are proven to be safe and effective treatments for fibromyalgia. There are four common typical TCM patterns for fibromyalgia, including liver Qi stagnation, Qi and blood deficiency, Qi stagnation & blood stasis and kidney (Yin, Yang, Qi, or Essence) deficiency.
Chinese medicine treatment takes into account your entire physical and medical history. On the first consultation, we will do a full assessment of your health condition according to your full medical history, clinical symptoms, diet and life-style habits as well as your emotional health. We will also examine you with the unique Chinese medicine diagnosis approach including tongue check and pulse palpation, to determine the root cause of the problem according to TCM theory.
Once a diagnosis is reached, a treatment plan will be tailored according to the individual signs and symptoms differentiation. The treatment may include acupuncture, cupping therapy, Chinese herbal medicine, as well as diet and life-style advice. We aim to eliminate the pain and associated symptoms, and address the root causes of the condition effectively by balancing the body’s Yin and Yang, and adjusting the circulation of the Qi and blood.
In our clinic, Dr. Jim Xing has successfully treated a large number of people who had suffered from fibromyalgia, using acupuncture combined with Chinese herbal medicine. Patients with this condition have found themselves living without pain, having better sleep and more energy following his treatment. Those who have relied on western drugs for a long time can also gradually reduce the dosage of their drugs, or even then go off the drugs completely under the supervision of their western medical doctor. Based on his 30+ years of clinical experience, he now has a personal conclusion about some special acupuncture points, as well as unique herbal recipes, which have proven very effective and applicable in treating fibromyalgia.