What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition in which there is no known cause with its main symptom being widespread muscle pain. It is one of the most common rheumatic conditions. According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia affects three to six million Americans, about two percent of the population. The majority of people suffering with fibromyalgia are women between the ages of 34 and 56. Only in the last twenty years has fibromyalgia actually been recognized.
The problem with fibromyalgia is that clinical examinations often do not reveal any concrete findings. X-rays, blood tests, and muscle biopsies appear normal, and therefore the symptoms seem unexplained. Currently, a diagnosis is made by first ruling out other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, hypothyroidism, and Lyme disease. Generalized muscle pain and fatigue coupled with 11 to 18 specific tender points is suggestive of fibromyalgia.
What are the symptoms of Fibromyalgia?
- Sleep disturbances
- Headache & facial pain
- Abdominal discomfort
- Irritable bladder
- Numbness or tingling
- Chest pain
- Cognitive disorders
- Environmental sensitivity
- Disorientation & balance difficulties
Some possible causes of Fibromyalgia:
Studies show that there is not one single cause of fibromyalgia but rather a number of factors may contribute including a viral or bacterial infection, injury, or autoimmune disease. Alterations in chemical changes in the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters like serotonin and substance P, immune system function, sleep physiology, and hormone control are all being studied.
Western medical treatment:
Some medications may help reduce the amount of pain and improve sleep in patients with fibromyalgia, however, as soon as these medications are stopped, the severity of the symptoms will come back. Another problem is that medications tend to work for a short period of time, after which the body becomes resistant to their effects. Sleeping pills, for example, tends to ultimately create even more sleeping problems in fibromyalgia patients. Basically, there is no treatment for fibromyalgia in western medicine.
How does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) view Fibromyalgia?
TCM categorizes fibromyalgia as a blockage in the flow of Qi (energy) and blood throughout the pathways in the body. Pain in TCM indicates the presence of a blockage, and conditions like fibromyalgia are classified as Painful Obstruction Syndromes (or Bi Syndromes). The immediate causes of Bi syndromes is environmental: pathogenic influences of wind, cold, and dampness penetrate the body’s defenses and lodge in the muscles, tendons, and joints, creating obstruction and causing pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. Usually the Qi (energy) is strong enough to resist the invasion by these environmental pathogens but there are several factors that can predispose a person to Bi syndrome. Stress, general weakness, lack of adequate sleep or proper nutrition, overwork, genetic predisposition to weakness, or insufficient exercise are all possible factors.
TCM Categories of Fibromyalgia
There are three different categories of Bi syndromes based on the predominance of wind, cold, or dampness.
Wind Bi: The patient’s pain begins and ends rapidly with limited range of motion, and moves among different parts of the body. Windy weather will make their condition worse.
Cold Bi: The pain is severe with limited range of motion, and has fixed locations. Cold temperature will make the pain worse and warmth improves it.
Damp Bi: The pain is characterized by soreness with limited range of motion, and accompanied by feelings of heaviness and sometimes numbness. The pain is fixed in areas of the body and damp weather will worsen the condition. There may also be swelling of the affected areas.
According to TCM theory, the major organ imbalances for a patient with fibromyalgia are the liver, spleen, heart, and kidney systems.
In my practice, I commonly combine both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for best results in fibromyalgia patients. I also will advise them on nutrition. Treatment with TCM will help to control pain, increase energy, and improve sleep. If a patient is on western drugs, I will not advise them to go off the drugs but rather gradually reduce the dosage of their drugs under the supervision of their western medical doctor.
Some things you can do:
- Avoid tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, dairy products, red meat, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and processed or refined foods.
- Eat lightly for dinner, preferably vegetables, grains, and some protein
- Take a hot bath before bedtime
- Do some sort of stress release exercises or meditation