Fibromyalgia and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers every individual to be unique and therefore any illness they have will be unique to them. This is particularly noticeable in fibromyalgia as patients often have differing signs & symptoms and varying levels of impairment.

I see patients with signs & symptoms of widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness, sleep disturbance, anxiety and low mood, etc. that have been diagnosed by their GP or consultant with fibromyalgia. It occurs to me that many of these patients also have signs similar to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS); in fact I wonder if sometimes fatigue and sleep disturbance are a precursor to fibromyalgia.

TCM considers one cause of fibromyalgia and to some extent CFS to be due to a previous and unresolved invasion of external pathogenic factors; in a Western sense these might be seen as bacterial or viral infections. Particularly problematic are reoccurring infections often over many years that never seem to fully clear and are perhaps treated inappropriately with long courses of antibiotics or steroids. Other important factors that may cause or contribute to fibromyalgia are emotional stress, irregular diet and excessive physical work.

TCM views fibromyalgia as both deficient and excess in nature. Underlying deficiencies such as Blood, Yin and Yang deficiency ultimately lead to excess conditions such as Dampness and Qi & Blood stasis. It is the deficiencies that tend to feed the condition and cause the fatigue, and the excesses that tend to cause the pain.

TCM Treatment of Fibromyalgia

In my clinical experience I have found cupping therapy to be a good treatment for fibromyalgia. Although many patients find physical treatment painful and in some cases even find the touch of their clothes painful, they actually find cupping pleasant and helpful. My observations are supported by a 20111 study that concluded cupping to be beneficial in the treatment of fibromyalgia by reducing pain and the number of tender areas.

Subject to an in depth consultation and TCM pattern diagnosis I usually find a threefold treatment plan offers the best results:

Acupuncture and moxibustion to address the underlying deficiencies and to calm the mind of anxiety and low mood.

Dietary changes based on TCM food energetics to further address deficiencies and resolve Dampness.

Cupping therapy to move stagnation, ease pain and reduce symptoms.

Depending on the patient, their particular issues and their TCM diagnosis treatment is often weekly for some time and then monthly to maintain improvement. Due to the nature of fibromyalgia some patients find that they come for treatment only when they feel they need it.

Cupping Therapy

Fire cupping for fibromyalgiaCupping is an established and ancient treatment skill still very popular around the world today. I favour fire cupping using glass cups. Just before the cup is placed on the skin a flame is held momentarily in the cup to cause a slight vacuum. Once on the skin the cup remains in place due to the vacuum and can be left in one place (static cupping) or slid about (sliding cupping). Cupping has a strong therapeutic effect on the treatment area and the underling tissues and organs.

Studies

In 20111 the centre for evidence based Chinese medicine at Beijing University concluded in a study of 30 fibromyalgia patients that cupping therapy was associated with a reduction in symptoms for both pain ratings and number of tender points.

A 20052 clinical trial from the Mayo Clinic concluded that acupuncture lessened fibromyalgia pain, fatigue and anxiety.

The 20033 World Health Organisation (WHO) report on the efficacy of acupuncture concluded that acupuncture has a therapeutic effect on Fibromyalgia.

References:

1Cao H, Hu H, Colagiuri B, Liu J. Medicinal cupping therapy in 30 patients with fibromyalgia: a case series observation. Forsch Komplementmed 2011; 18: 122- 126.

2Martin, D. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, June 2006; vol 81: pp 749-757.

3WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials