Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a condition mostly affecting women between 20-50 years of age. It is characterized by chronic, widespread, severe muscular aching, pain, and stiffness accompanied by insomnia, fatigue, and depression. It is neither a rheumatic, inflammatory, progressive, or degenerative disorder. However, it is also not solely a psychosomatic or psychiatric disorder. In 1987, the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized FMS as a true illness and major cause of diability. Fibromyalgia can be differentiated from other chronic muscle-joint pain by the presence of pain or tenderness on pressure in at least 11 of 18 specific points on the body.
70-90% of FMS sufferers will also have one or more of the following:
- Post-exertional malaise, sleep disturbances, headaches, either migraine or tension, swollen feet, numbness and/or tingling, difficulty thinking and concentrating, dizziness, sensitivity to light, noise, and/or smells, hypersensitivity to stress, painful menstruation, and dry mouth.
- In terms of sleep disturbances, FMS sufferers are usually able to fall asleep but are not able to sleep soundly or wake up too early in the morning.
Because fibromyalgia involves a number of different symptoms, Western physicians try to treat this disorder by prescribing various drugs for each of these symptoms. For instance, antidepressants are commonly prescribed anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are prescribed for the pain. Unfortunately, not all patients tolerate antidepressants and even NSAIDs can have their own potential for side effects. Ironically, some of these side effects include many of the symptoms of FMS.
How Does Chinese Medicine Treat Fibromyalgia?
According to Chinese medical theory, most patients with FMS have a liver-spleen disharmony sitting at the center of their disease mechanisms. This means their liver is depressed, their qi is stagnant, and their spleen is vacuous and weak. Based on these core disease mechanisms, individual FMS sufferers may also have malnourishment of their sinews and vessels, damp heat impediment, blood stasis, kidney yin and/or kidney yang vacuity.
Because every patient with FMS has a slightly different Chinese medical pattern discrimination, each patient receives their own individualized treatment. This treatment mainly consists of the oral administration of Chinese herbal formulas which may either be given as powdered, desiccated extracts or a bulk herbs brewed and drunk as a “tea” several times per day. Depending on the practitioner and the patient’s individual pattern, acupuncture, moxibustion (a type of heat therapy), and/or Chinese massage may also be performed. In addition, practitioners will pay close attention to each patient’s diet and lifestyle in order to treat the whole person and eliminate the root of the condition.
Typically, the Chinese medical treatment for fibromyalgia lasts several months in its active phase, and this may be followed up by several more months of taking Chinese herbs in pill or powder form preventively.