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Acupuncture shows promise for fibromyalgia

Alternative MedicineJun 19, 06

Acupuncture may help relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, especially the fatigue and anxiety that often comes with the condition, a new study suggests.

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome marked by chronic widespread aches and pains, fatigue and sleep problems, among other symptoms; the cause is unknown, and there are no medications specifically approved for the condition. Instead, treatment usually involves a combination of approaches, such as painkillers, antidepressants and exercise therapy.

Only two well-designed clinical trials have tested acupuncture’s effects on fibromyalgia, and these studies yielded conflicting results.

The new study was conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota and in Jackson, Florida.

Fifty fibromyalgia patients were randomly assigned to acupuncture or to a “placebo” version of the therapy, where a dull surgical instrument was pressed against the skin rather than acupuncture needles.

The subjects were positioned so they could not see which treatment they received. All but one subject was female.

The patients underwent six treatment sessions over two to three weeks. None of the patients had been treated with acupuncture before.

Overall, the fibromyalgia patients who underwent the real treatment showed a significantly greater improvement in their symptoms than placebo recipients did—particularly when it came to fatigue and anxiety, Dr. David P. Martin and his colleagues report in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Acupuncture is among the most popular and best-studied forms of alternative medicine; research suggests it can help ease pain stemming from a range of conditions, including lower back problems, migraine and arthritis.

As far as the therapy’s effects on fibromyalgia, “the trend in the evidence is tipping toward a benefit,” Martin told Reuters Health.

“I think people can try it, because there are really no bad side effects,” he said, adding that many may tolerate acupuncture better than the medications often used for the condition.

It’s not clear, according to Martin, why the fatigue and anxiety symptoms in particular improved, just as it’s not completely understood why acupuncture works at all.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture points on the skin are connected to internal pathways that conduct energy, and stimulating the points with a fine needle promotes a balanced flow of this energy. Research in recent years has suggested that acupuncture may work by altering signals among nerve cells or affecting the release of various chemicals of the central nervous system.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic Proceedings, June 2006.

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