Fibromyalgia is a disorder considered disabling by many, and is characterized by chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain and symptoms such as fatigue, joint stiffness and sleep disturbance. No cure is known, and available treatments are only partially effective.
Mayo's study involved 50 fibromyalgia patients enrolled in a randomized, controlled trial to determine if acupuncture improved their symptoms. Symptoms of patients who received acupuncture significantly improved compared with the control group, according to the study published by the Minnesota health organization in a recent issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
"The results of the study convince me there is something more than the placebo effect to acupuncture," says David Martin, M.D., Ph.D., who was the lead author of the acupuncture article and a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist. "It affirms a lot of clinical impressions that this complementary medical technique is helpful for patients."
Increasingly, patients are interested in pursuing complementary medicine techniques in conjunction with their mainstream medical care, says Martin.
But often, such techniques lack scientific evidence to justify a patient's expense and outlay of time.
The study lends credence to patients' belief that nontraditional methods may improve their health. In Mayo's trial, patients who received acupuncture to counter their fibromyalgia symptoms reported improvement in fatigue and anxiety, among other symptoms.
Acupuncture was well-tolerated, with minimal side effects.
Mayo's acupuncture study is one of only three randomized and controlled studies involving fibromyalgia patients. Of the other studies, one found acupuncture to be helpful, while the other reported it was ineffective for pain relief.
According to Martin, Mayo's study demonstrates that acupuncture is helpful, and also proves physicians can conduct a rigorous, controlled acupuncture study. Future research could help physicians understand which medical conditions respond best to acupuncture, how to apply it to best relieve symptoms, and how long patients can expect it will be before their symptoms decrease after each treatment.