Acupuncture and acupressure are becoming increasingly popular in North America. Originating over 3,000 years ago in China, these practices are now being used throughout the United States to relieve a variety of illnesses. Acupuncture and acupressure have shown to be particularly effective in reducing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. If you have been searching for an effective fibromyalgia treatment, acupuncture might just help to ease your pain, fatigue, and get you back to your old self.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture therapy is an ancient Chinese practice used to eliminate pain and treat other health problems. It aims to restore balance to your body, helping to improve your overall function. Acupuncture literally means, “needle piercing,” because it uses thin, metallic needles to stimulate special points throughout the body. Needles ranging from 1 to 10 centimeters in length are placed in certain points all over the skin. These points, called acupoints or acupuncture points, correspond to the specific areas in your body that are causing your health problems. Acupuncture needles can remain in the body for up to 20 minutes.
What is Acupressure?
Acupressure therapy is very similar to acupuncture, only it does not use needles to restore balance to the body. Instead, pressure is used in order to relieve chronic pain, headaches, and other fibromyalgia symptoms. Using the fingers, knuckles, palms, elbows, or feet, an acupressurist applies pressure to specific areas on the body. This pressure is held for between 3 and 10 seconds, providing relief from symptoms and restoring health to the body.
Illnesses Treated by Acupuncture and Acupressure
A number of different illnesses can be treated using acupuncture and acupressure techniques. These include:
- chronic pain, including fibromyalgia
- acute pain
- gastrointestinal problems, like irritable bowel syndrome
- cardiovascular problems
- nerve and muscle disorders
How Does It Work?
According to Chinese medicine, acupuncture and acupressure work by restoring balance throughout the body. It also increases the amount of life force, known as “chi,” in your body, thus restoring overall health. Western scientists are not entirely sure how acupuncture and acupressure works. It is believed that acupuncture may actually block pain impulses from reaching the brain and increase the level of endorphins in the body, thereby minimizing pain. In particular, acupuncture seems to increase serotonin, endomorphin-1, beta-endorphin, and encephalin, all of which are chemicals that help to reduce pain symptoms.
Effectiveness in Fibromyalgia Treatment
Acupuncture and acupressure have actually shown to relieve pain symptoms caused by fibromyalgia. In a recent study performed by the Mayo Clinic, fibromyalgia acupuncture treatment was shown to reduce pain and depression. Acupuncture for fibromyalgia was also shown to increase energy and reduce fatigue. Other studies have illustrated that acupuncture remains effective for up to one month after treatment.
Another recent acupunture trial has also shown that stimulation in certain areas of the body is particularly helpful for relieving fibromyalgia pain. In the study, a needle was inserted into the trapezius muscles (near the back and shoulder) of both fibromyalgia patients and healthy controls. The needles helped to increase blood flow in fibromyalgia patients to a much greater degree than in the healthy controls. this increased blood circulation helped to reduce the number of tender points and increase muscle health.
A recent study done by the Mayo Clinic investigating specifically the affects of acupuncture on fibromyalgia found that fibromyalgia symptoms were reduced when patients received acupuncture. For the study, 50 patients were divided into two groups: one received acupuncture while the control group was given simulated acupuncture. Both groups had six sessions over a two to three week period.
In their findings, researchers noted that the most significant improvements were found in fatigue and anxiety levels. Most of the patients said they enjoyed receiving the acupuncture and side effects were minimal but included bruising and soreness in those that had true acupuncture. Overall, though, researchers found that the reported relief acupuncture provided patients was on par with medications, such as anti-depressants and acetaminophen.
This study is one of just three randomized and controlled studies looking at the effects of acupuncture on fibromyalgia. While one of the other studies found that acupuncture was not effective for pain relief, the other reported similar results to those noted by the Mayo Clinic. While more research clearly needs to be done, the findings so far do seem promising.
At your first acupuncture or acupressure session, your therapist will go over your medical history with you. This is in order to get information about your general health and the symptoms that you would like to see treated. Your therapist may ask specific questions about your symptoms and any fibromyalgia treatments that you are currently using.
Treatment usually begins with your therapist checking your pulse and assessing the color and texture of your tongue. This is in order to discern which acupoints should be targeted during the session. Up to fifteen points may be pinpointed by your therapist in one session. Your therapist will begin applying pressure or inserting needles into these acupoints. You should not experience any pain, but you may feel aching or tingling at the site.
After the Treatment
Every individual reacts in a different way to acupuncture and acupressure treatments. You may feel:
- heaviness in your limbs
- intensely relaxed
- highly energized
Complications of Acupuncture and Acupressure
As with any treatment, acupuncture and acupressure are sometimes associated with complications. Complications are very rare, but it is a good idea to check with your health care provider before pursuing acupuncture or acupressure. Possible complications include:
If performed incorrectly, acupuncture is also associated with risk of infection, bleeding, and organ puncture.
Finding a Practitioner
In order to reduce the risk of complications and to get the full benefits of treatment, you should look for a qualified or licensed acupuncturist or acupressurist. Not all states require licensing, so ask your practitioner where they went to school and how long they have been in practice for. Most acupuncturists have completed a four-year Masters Degree as well as numerous hours of clinical training.
Here are some excellent places to turn to for acupressure and acupuncture information and for advice on finding a qualified practitioner:
- your medical doctor or general practitioner
- a neurologist
- a physical therapist
- national organizations that govern acupuncture and acupressure providers