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.


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.


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

Preparing for Treatment

Normally you will have received (in person, via email or downloaded) a patient questionnaire to complete at your leisure and bring to your initial consultation. During your consultation I will consider this questionnaire and ask further questions and carry out any relevant examinations.

I will explain clearly the consultation, diagnosis and treatment plan. If there is anything you are unclear about or concerned about please tell me. Your understanding of your illness and its treatment is an important aspect your recovery. There are many traditional Chinese medicine treatment methods at my disposal* and if you are uncomfortable with a particular method I can usually offer a suitable therapeutic alternative.

When preparing for treatment please wear loose clothing with legs and sleeves that are easy to roll-up out of the way. You need to be prepared to remove items of clothing as required, but be assured that I am always mindful of your modesty and comfort.

To gain the best from treatment please enjoy a light meal beforehand and refrain from any strenuous activities for a few hours. No alcohol should be taken before or after treatment.

*Acupuncture is not always used, particularly if you are needle-phobic or have a condition or medication that is not suited to acupuncture. Other Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment methods I frequently use are acupressure, massage, moxibustion (heat treatment) and cupping therapy.


Cupping is perhaps one of the oldest methods of traditional Chinese medicine, historically horn, bamboo or clay cups were used but these days glass and plastic cups are favoured. There are many variations of cupping: static dry cupping, sliding cupping, wet (bleeding) cupping, water cupping and flash cupping, all of which are suitable for differing types of condition. I frequently use cupping in combination with acupuncture or as a standalone treatment

Cupping imageThe main component of cupping is to introduce a vacuum to the cup while it is on the skin. The vacuum is typically introduced by holding a flame to a glass cup just before it is placed on the skin or by placing a plastic cup on the skin and temporarily attaching a small hand pump to cause a mild vacuum.

By lifting the skin and to some extent the connective tissues away from the underlying structures blood and Qi are able to flow more abundantly and freely thus alleviating pain, resolving toxins and aiding the body’s repair processes.

Cupping can leave marks and depending on the underlying condition these marks can last from a few hours to some days. Although the marks look like bruising they are not generally painful like a bruise would be. These days it is not uncommon to see athletes and celebrities sporting the tell tale round marks of static cupping.

Because of the different methods of cupping and because skilled practitioners can control the amount of vacuum or strength of the cups it is a treatment suitable for most patients from children to the elderly. Subject to your pattern diagnosis cupping can be very beneficial for painful conditions and respiratory conditions such as back pain, sciatic pain, shoulder pain, bronchitis, asthma, congestion, gastrointestinal disorders, menstrual pain and infertility.

By Austin ©2014 Austin Austin