A 42-yr old female had been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia/Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) 18 months before. The pain from the fibromyalgia was all over her body, from skin sensitivity to deep muscular and bone pain that would be in several different locations simultaneously. The fibromyalgia brought severe fatigue, causing her to sleep all day and keeping her out of work. She also had daily anxiety and depression, which would cause panic attacks, increase her heart rate, and bring on debilitating fear. These episodes of anxiety caused an “exponential” increase in her pain. Previous to our treatments, the patient had been seen by pain specialists, receiving different combinations of pain medications. She had also been on a variety of anti-depressants to help her moods. However, she had felt no relief from her pain and anxiety, nor a difference in her exhaustion. Her daily pain, anxiety, and exhaustion levels were between 6-10 out of 10.
In Chinese Medicine, fibromyalgia is system-wide imbalance, meaning that many meridians are affected. Because of this, I began broad with my treatments (treating many things at once), then became more specific as her system became more balanced.
There are several kinds of protocol treatments for such system-wide ailments. All treatments have been designed to both calm and build her system. The protocol that I found most useful was created by Dr. Richard Tan, a Master’s Master Acupuncturist (as I call him). Depending on her presenting symptoms the day of our appointments, I would either treat her energetic deficiencies (exhaustion and depression), or her excess energy (pain and anxiety). Points for both were along her Triple Heater meridian (TH3 & TH10), and her Gall Bladder (GB34 & GB41). If I focused on deficiency, I would do Kidney points (KI3 & KI10), while excess would be Liver (LR3 & LR8).
As the treatments became more specific, I relied on ST36 and SP21 to build chi, nourish the body, and LR3 and LI4 to treat stagnation (which in acupuncture is a cause of pain).
After the first several treatments, she felt a small decrease in pain (down to about 4-8:10) and a slight increase in energy. However, these shifts would only last 2-3 days, before receding back to the normal levels. After 3 months of weekly treatments, these decreases in pain lasted the entire week between treatments, and pain levels decreased to 3-4:10. Consequently with this decrease in pain, the patient felt better, emotionally and physically. The anxiety and depression also began to lessen during those first several treatments, as she felt more consistently happy and noticed fewer and fewer panic attacks. By the third month, she had her first moment without anxiety. By the fifth month, she experienced short periods without pain for the first time in years.
Simultaneous to the acupuncture, the patient began to improve her diet. A body in balance strives to find ways to stay in balance. She consulted nutritionists and read books on health. She also made other lifestyle changes to better care for herself. She saw the benefit of not always pushing through her pain. In short, she began to allow herself to rest and recuperate.
After 8 months her pain had decreased to 0-2. Her fatigue, while still present, was not nearly as debilitating. Likewise, her anxiety was nearly non-existent, as felt in higher spirit than she had since she was a child.
I continued to see this patient for the better part of 18 months. We began to spread out treatments to monthly tune-ups for a while. (Fortunately, the patient had great insurance, which covered acupuncture for her pain. She never would have had the financial means to pay for treatment otherwise. I am grateful that more and more insurances are providing coverage to their clients.) She had to pause her treatments due to changes in her personal life. She has ambitions on returning to treatment, because her dance with the fibromyalgia and anxiety continue. The difference with her physical, mental, and spiritual being now as compared with before is that she feels more confident and peaceful with her abilities to deal with her pain. And for that alone, she is “grateful beyond words.”
Regarding this patient’s example, you may ask whether it was the acupuncture or the medications that so dramatically improved her health? I say that it was both. The proof for me that acupuncture was a significant factor in her healing regimen was in the difference I saw and she felt from the beginning of an acupuncture treatment to the end. Often she came in to my office, nearly crying in pain and she would leave breathing much more easily and feeling much better. Also, her pulses shifted significantly during the treatments, which for acupuncturists is a significant and valid diagnostic barometer of a treatment’s effectiveness.