Does Acupuncture Help?

The jury's been out on acupuncture and its ability to provide pain relief for people with fibromyalgia. Now, a new study attempts to clarify what acupuncture does and doesn't do for fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS).

It seems that while acupuncture will give a fibromyalgia sufferer temporary relief from pain, it won't relieve sleep difficulties, fatigue, or physical function. These findings are based on a review of seven research trials. The researchers responsible for the review believe that the data is so inconsistent regarding acupuncture's effects on pain that it makes little sense to suggest acupuncture as even a temporary pain-relieving treatment for fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia Mystery Disease

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that makes daily activity difficult for 2%-4% of the world population. The condition often comes with other afflictions such as sleep difficulties and fatigue. This is one of those conditions that people label as a "mystery disease" since it can't be found through clinical tests, no one knows what causes the condition, and it manifests differently in every patient.

This review was undertaken by the Germany-based Klinikum Saarbrucken, where Winfried Hauser and his research team looked at seven randomized and controlled trials of acupuncture. The total number of participants in these trials added up to 385 fibromyalgia patients. Most of them were middle-aged, white women.

In every study, tradition Chinese acupuncture was administered through the insertion of fine needles into skin along specific points. Two of the seven studies also employed electro-acupuncture in which needles are fitted with clips that deliver electrical impulses to further stimulate the acupuncture points. Three of the studies were compared to sham acupuncture, and one study compared sham acupuncture to no treatment.

Strong Evidence For Acupuncture

The investigators reported that they found "strong evidence" that acupuncture does relieve the pain of fibromyalgia, but results varied wildly from study to study. The researchers feel that acupuncture cannot therefore be recommended as a pain management treatment for fibromyalgia. In one study, for instance, the sham acupuncture was found to give better results than the true acupuncture treatment. In addition, the researchers saw that the pain relief was momentary and did not give respite of any significant duration.

Hauser spoke of the difficulties in studying acupuncture, "Choosing appropriate control conditions in clinical acupuncture trials on chronic pain syndromes is a particularly difficult problem."

The study author doesn't hesitate to admit that acupuncture is an effective treatment for many other painful conditions, but in studying acupuncture as a pain treatment, sham or minimal acupuncture seems to yield no different results from full-out acupuncture treatment. Hauser doesn't believe that the treatment will lose its following among fibromyalgia patients, despite these findings. Because of this, he recommends that larger-scale studies be done that compare acupuncture to traditional medical treatments and acupuncture versus other types of electrical and manual stimulation.

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