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Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that packs a double whammy. First, there are the chronic body aches, memory deficiencies and digestive problems that the sufferer must endure. Then there is the disbelief of family and friends, to whom the sufferer appears perfectly normal. Until recently, in fact, many members of the medical community looked unfavorably on the diagnosis of fibromyalgia as a distinct medical condition. Faced with these challenges, fibromyalgia patients have become fierce and well-informed advocates for their own well-being, often turning to alternative therapies such as acupuncture for relief.
“The only way I’ve gotten through this,” says Linda, a successful Los Angeles publicist, “is by having assembled a team of health professionals who understand my condition. I’ve done a lot of research, looked at the clinical studies and have networked online with people just like me. As a result, I’m now seeing complementary therapists as well as my regular doctors. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are helping a lot.”
The Chinese medicine view of fibromyalgia is unlike the western perspective. The western model regards fibromyalgia as a single condition that includes chronic pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Diseases such as lupus must first be ruled out, and blood and urine tests are given. Eleven of eighteen areas on the body must be chronically painful.
In the Chinese model, however, the various symptoms are addressed as separate but interrelated pathological patterns involving the heart, liver, kidneys and spleen. Diagnostic terms such as “liver qi stagnation” or “heart blood deficiency” may be used. If these terms seem less than technical, it’s because they’ve been used for centuries in China to describe and systematically treat various illnesses.
“Heart blood deficiency,” for instance, can cause insomnia and mental upset because certain aspects of spirit are stored in the heart. Joy is the emotion associated with the heart, an emotion that comes in short supply with the depletion of heart function due to “blood deficiency.” It should be noted that the term “blood deficiency” is an abstraction, referring to a function of the heart rather than an actual scarcity of blood.
Also important to the treatment of fibromyalgia is another diagnostic term, “liver qi stagnation.” That’s because the liver serves to spread qi (think of it as energy and nourishment) to all parts of the body, with special emphasis on tendons and ligaments. With stagnation of qi comes pain and discomfort in all reaches of the body. The acupuncturist’s goal is to “unblock the qi” and promote the smooth flow of energy. These terms, however, needn’t be understood by the patient in order to feel relief.
Says fibromyalgia patient Linda, “I don’t completely understand how acupuncture works, but that’s alright. As long as I can continue to feel better, I know that it’s working, and that’s good enough for me.”