TCM to Treat Fibromyalgia

TCM has a threefold strategy for treating Muscle Bi syndrome:

  • Resolve the Bi syndrome and expel the Wind, Cold, and Damp.
  • Treat any underlying factors contributing to the development of Bi.
  • Provide symptomatic relief by stopping pain.

This comprehensive strategy addresses the symptoms of fibromyalgia and its underlying causes.

Together, acupuncture, herbal medicine and Qi Gong provide a powerful treatment option for patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It is common for all three modalities to be employed simultaneously, but each may be used alone. Acupuncture may be best for treating the pain syndromes that accompany fibromyalgia; herbal medicine for treating the Wind, Cold, Damp Bi factors and underlying imbalances in the body; and Qi Gong for providing gentle exercise while treating contributory psychological or emotional factors.

Fibromyalgia & Acupuncture

Bi and other pain syndromes account for more than one-half of acupuncture treatments in the United States each year. Fibromyalgia patients often use acupuncture as a means of pain control, once or twice a week, which can be an effective complementary treatment.

As a type of Muscle Bi, fibromyalgia is treated with a combination of acupuncture and moxibustion. Three different kinds of points are used:

  • Local points in areas of tenderness and pain are needled. For example, pain in the trapezius and neck muscles might be needled with points such as Gallbladder 20 (Feng Chi) and Urinary Bladder 10 (Tian Zhu), while pain in the inner thighs might be needled with points such as Liver 8 (Qu Chuan), 9 (Yin Bao), and 10 (Zu Wu Li). Moxibustion and electrical stimulation, if appropriate, may be used. Diathermy (heat lamp) and Tui Na applied to specific acupuncture points or muscle groups may prove useful as well.
  • Specific acupuncture points associated with the type of Bi syndrome diagnosed are needled. Patients with a predominance of Wind Bi may have Urinary Bladder 17 (Ge Shu) and Spleen 10 (Xue Hai) needled; with Cold Bi, points such as Urinary Bladder 23 (Shen Shu) and Ren 4 (Guan Yuan); and with Damp Bi, Stomach 36 (Zu San Li) and Spleen 5 (Shang Qiu).
  • Other underlying factors contributing to the development of Bi are treated as well. Liver Qi stagnation might be treated by adding Liver 3 (Hun Men); Kidney and Spleen deficiency by adding Kidney 3 (Tai Xi) and Spleen 4 (Gong Sun); and Qi and Blood deficiency might indicate the use of Stomach 36 (Zu San Li) and Spleen 6 (San Yin Jiao). Small acupuncture needles, known as intradermal needles, may be left in painful sites for a few days.

Fibromyalgia & Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine treatment for fibromyalgia uses specific herbs to address each of the three levels of treatment, but focuses specifically on using herbs that address Bi. These herbs also provide symptomatic relief of pain and discomfort.

An efficient approach to individualizing herbal prescriptions is to use herbs that stop pain but also expel the pathogenic factors responsible for Bi. For example, while all of the following herbs help relieve pain, each focuses on a different type of Bi: Sang Zhi (Ramulus Mori) for Wind Bi, Wei Ling Xian (Radix Clematidis Sinensis) for Cold Bi, and Mu Gua (Fructus Chaenomelis) for Damp Bi.

Because Wind, Cold, and Damp are intertwined in these Bi conditions, all three are treated through herbal combinations. Dosages and herbs are chosen on the basis of predominant symptoms. Specific herbs for Bi syndrome also affect different areas of the body and can be used to make the formula more efficient. Examples are Qiang Huo (Rhizoma et Radix Notopterygii) for the upper part of the body, particularly the neck, shoulders, and upper back; and Du Huo (Radix Angelicae Pubescentis) for the lower back and legs. Herbs to treat Wind, Cold, or Damp in the body also may be added to the formulas.

Finally, herbs that affect any predisposing factors may be used as well, such as the following:

  • Chai Hu (Radix Bupleuri) for Liver Qi Stagnation
  • Dang Gui (Radix Angelicae Sinensis) for Blood Deficiency
  • Huang Qi (Radix Astragali) for Qi Deficiency

This comprehensive approach takes into account the complex and individual nature of the syndrome in each patient.

Fibromyalgia & Qi Gong

Qi Gong exercises offer treatment potential for patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Because TCM relates stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional states to the Zang Organs, exercises such as the organ healing sounds may be used to strengthen the Zang Organs, help correct imbalances in the body, and maintain emotional balance. Qi Gong exercises such as the Eight Brocade Exercises and Tai Qi Quan encourage gentle physical movement and stretching, thus reducing pain, eliminating obstruction in channels and maintaining movement. Mindful Qi Gong massage helps relieve pain and increases the flow of Qi.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 02 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 03 Jun 2011