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Acupuncture may offer no relief of fibromyalgia

Linda Searing The Washington Post

The question: Alleviating the chronic pain and tenderness of fibromyalgia can be difficult. A long list of drugs has been used, with varied success, but none has been approved to treat it. Most people with the disorder turn at some point to complementary or alternative medicines. Might acupuncture offer relief?

This study randomly assigned 100 adults with fibromyalgia, mostly women, to twice-weekly acupuncture treatments designed for the disorder or one of three alternatives: treatment with the needles inserted at acupuncture points for an unrelated condition; with needling at spots that are not true acupuncture points; or a simulated acupuncture that mimics the feeling of needle insertion and withdrawal but does not pierce the skin. None of the participants had tried acupuncture previously. After about three months, all groups rated their pain as somewhat improved, but those who had gotten true acupuncture for fibromyalgia reported no better pain relief than those who had fake treatments.

Who may be affected by these findings? Anyone with fibromyalgia. The disorder can affect children and men, but more than 80 percent of those who have it are women.

Caveats: Findings were based on individuals’ perceptions of pain and may have been affected by their continued use of other treatments. More than a third of the participants reported discomfort from the needling; this side effect was especially high in the two actual acupuncture groups. The study was fairly small, with about 25 people per group. Results may not necessarily be duplicated by acupuncture practitioners of different skill levels.

Find this study in the July 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine; abstract available online at www.annals.org.

Learn more about fibromyalgia at http://fmaware.org and www.arthritis.org.

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