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Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia Pain


Fibromyalgia is a relatively common condition, affecting a significant number of people worldwide. Fibromyalgia is more commonly diagnosed in women compared to men, with a female-to-male ratio of about 3:1. It tends to be most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged individuals. However, fibromyalgia can affect people of all ages, including children and older adults. Kampo Health Toronto Clinic has helped many patients with fibromyalgia to relieve their pain and improve the quality of their lives. This post was intended to provide some helpful information and guidance about fibromyalgia management and how Chinese medicine may help you to manage this challenging condition.

What you will read in this post:


What is Fibromyalgia and why it is difficult to treat?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, tenderness, and fatigue. It is considered a rheumatic condition, but it does not cause joint inflammation like arthritis. Fibromyalgia affects about 2-8% of the population, predominantly women. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown by conventional medicine, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. It is thought that people with fibromyalgia have an amplified response to pain signals, where normal sensations are perceived as painful. This heightened pain sensitivity is called central sensitization. There are many factors such as inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and autonomic nervous system imbalance, that may influence the pain sensitivity level as well as mood and sleep. Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture may provide an alternative solution for fibromyalgia patients to manage these underlying factors.

Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  1. Widespread pain: Persistent, dull aching pain that occurs on both sides of the body and above and below the waist. The pain is typically described as a constant, deep ache, sometimes can be burning.
  2. Tenderness: Increased sensitivity to touch, with specific tender points located in certain areas of the body, including the neck, shoulders, chest, elbows, hips, and knees.
  3. Fatigue: Feeling tired, even after sleep. People with fibromyalgia often wake up feeling unrefreshed.
  4. Sleep disturbances: Sleep disorders are common in fibromyalgia, including insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and sleep apnea. You can check my post on Chinese medicine and acupuncture for Insomnia.
  5. Cognitive difficulties: Often referred to as “fibro fog,” it involves problems with concentration, memory, and thinking clearly. If you do suffer from brain fog, you can check my post “Brain fog treatment with Chinese medicine”.

Other symptoms: Headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stiffness, numbness or tingling in the extremities, sensitivity to noise, light, or temperature, and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety may also occur.

According to Western medicine, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. It is considered difficult to treat due to several reasons:

  1. Lack of Objective Diagnostic Tests: Fibromyalgia does not have a specific diagnostic test or biomarker. Diagnosis is typically based on the patient’s reported symptoms and a physical examination. The absence of definitive objective tests makes it difficult to establish a standardized diagnosis and treatment approach.
  2. Symptom Variability: Fibromyalgia symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, both in terms of their severity and the specific combination of symptoms experienced. This variability makes it challenging to develop a one-size-fits-all treatment approach. What works for one person may not work for another.
  3. Overlapping Symptoms and Coexisting Conditions: Fibromyalgia often coexists with other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and many inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease(IBD). In these cases, the inflammatory response associated with these conditions may contribute to the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms. And the overlapping symptoms can complicate the diagnosis and treatment process, as addressing multiple conditions simultaneously becomes necessary.
  4. Immune Dysregulation: Abnormal immune system functioning has been observed in some individuals with fibromyalgia. This includes altered cytokine levels and immune cell activity, suggesting an immune dysregulation that may contribute to inflammation and symptomatology. That increases the difficulty to treat fibromyalgia while not compromising the immune system at the same time.
  5. Lack of Targeted Medications: There are currently no medications specifically approved for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Medications used to manage symptoms, such as pain relievers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs, may provide some relief for some patients, but their effectiveness varies, and they may have side effects that could counter the limited benefit and be detrimental to the overall health in the long term.
  6. Multidimensional Nature: Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that affects multiple systems in the body, including the nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system. It also involves psychological factors such as stress and mood disorders.

Medications for fibromyalgia:

Common choices include:

  • Pain relievers: Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Opioid medications are not recommended.
  • Antidepressants: Duloxetine (Cymbalta), and milnacipran (Savella) may help the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.
  • Anti-seizure drugs: Those are designed to treat epilepsy, often useful in relieving certain types of pain. Gabapentin (Neurontin) pregabalin (Lyrica).

If you are hesitant to use medications due to the concerns of efficacy and side effects in long term, the good news is, the difficulties of Western medicine are the features Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) offers: Treating fibromyalgia requires a holistic view and multidimensional approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects. 

Find a Chinese Medicine practitioner for Fibromyalgia in Toronto

Treating fibromyalgia effectively involves pain management, inflammation control, and stress management. Kampo Health Chinese medicine and acupuncture clinic offers holistic acupuncture and Chinese herbal formula by licensed professionals to manage your fibromyalgia condition and improve overall well-being and quality of life. Book an appointment to start your healing journey. If you have any questions, feel free to reach us by phone, email, or online request. Continue to read more information about how we can utilize Chinese medicine and acupuncture to help your fibromyalgia.


Can fibromyalgia be treated with herbs?

Everybody knows herbs are good for us, but whether they can treat complicated conditions such as fibromyalgia is a different story. People are trying to use herbs to treat fibromyalgia and many other pain and inflammatory conditions. I also use Chinese herbal medicine to treat patients with fibromyalgia. However, most people are unclear about the differences between Modern botanical medicine and Chinese herbal medicine. They think these two medical systems are mostly the same, just use different sets of herbs. That is far from the truth. What makes Chinese herbal medicine different from any other natural medicine is not the herbs TCM use, it is the compound effects of using formulas and their indications as well as the whole process of treatment from assessment, feedback collection, and the principle behind the reiteration/finetuning of the herbal formula(s).

I researched some botanical herbs from the internet that may help fibromyalgia, and I will also make a case of how Chinese herbal medicine treat it differently with examples of Kmapo/TCM formulas.

Five Herbs that may help fibromyalgia

Herbal medicine, also known as botanical medicine or herbalism, involves using plant-based remedies to promote health and address various health conditions. While herbal medicine is not a definitive treatment for fibromyalgia, some herbs may offer potential benefits for symptom management. It’s important to note that scientific evidence for the effectiveness of herbal remedies in treating fibromyalgia is limited, and individual responses may vary. 

Here are some herbs that are sometimes used for fibromyalgia:

  1. Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies suggest that curcumin may help reduce pain and inflammation in fibromyalgia.
  2. Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Ginger has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It may help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation associated with fibromyalgia.
  3. Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens): Devil’s claw has traditionally been used for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It may help relieve pain and improve mobility in fibromyalgia.
  4. White Willow Bark (Salix alba): White willow bark contains salicin, which has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects similar to aspirin. It may help alleviate pain associated with fibromyalgia.
  5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): St. John’s Wort is commonly used for its antidepressant properties. While fibromyalgia is not solely a mood disorder, it can be accompanied by depression or anxiety. St. John’s Wort may help improve mood and promote emotional well-being. However, it may interact with certain medications, so caution should be exercised and medical advice sought.

Chinese medicine uses ginger often but mainly for digestive problems, not for pain because there are many better choices than ginger to treat pain conditions such as Shao Yao(Peony) and Gui Zhi(cinnamon). More importantly, we rarely use one herb in the treatment, Chinese medicine uses FORMULAS which is composed of multiple ingredients in a complex structure to treat the human body. Just like there no carpenter can use one tool to make a piece of furniture, no matter how good the carpenter is or how fancy that tool is. A complicated system like the human body requires a complex treatment to address all aspects and produce great outcomes.

I practice Kampo-style Chinese herbal medicine, here I listed a few Kampo formulas and why they can help fibromyalgia.


Kampo(TCM) medicine for fibromyalgia pain relief

Kampo is a traditional Japanese herbal medicine system that originated from Chinese medicine. It incorporates a combination of herbs to create individualized formulas to address specific health conditions.

  1. Shakuyakukanzoto: Shakuyakukanzoto is a small Kampo formula composed of Paeonia lactiflora and Glycyrrhiza uralensis. Chinese herbalists use this formula to treat pain conditions that are associated with skeletal or smooth muscle spasms. We use it for muscle pain, abdominal pain, and menstrual cramps. It is very important to note: the “spasm” symptom or the “crampy” nature of the pain is an essential indication for this formula, otherwise its efficacy for pain management may not be adequate. You will see this type of description of co-signs and symptoms besides the condition’s name everywhere in Chinese herbal medicine.
  2. Keishikajutsubuto: Keishikajutsubuto is bigger Kampo formula that includes multiple herbs that can improve blood circulation such as Gui Zhi, and remove the inflammatory fluid from the tissue such as Cang Zhu. Now we can see this formula can cover much bigger ground in terms of the pathology of pain. It include the Shakuyakukanzoto formula within it that still can target the muscle spasm aspect.

    However, the chief indication of this formula is “cold” syndrome in TCM, including signs and symptoms like cold limbs, weak pulse, pale tongue, no desire to drink water, etc.

  3. Yokukansan: Yokukansan is a traditional Kampo formula composed of multiple herbs, including Atractylodes lancea, Poria cocos, and Glycyrrhiza uralensis. It has been studied for its potential effects on pain, sleep disturbances, and mood in fibromyalgia. This formula is addressing the so-called “psychosomatic” aspect of fibromyalgia syndrome. Herbs in this formula like Chai Hu, Gou Teng have effects on regulating the nervous system. Some studies have suggested that Yokukansan may help improve pain, sleep quality, and psychological symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. The unique feature of Chinese medicine is, no one formula can treat everyone with fibromyalgia patients. but there is always one formula that is suitable for an individual with fibromyalgia. It is up to Kampo/TCM practitioners to identify the unique underlying patterns that each patient presents with.

Kampo/Chinese medicine can provide flexibility and a wide range of choices of herbs that can accomplish this task through detailed assessment and personalized formulas. It’s worth noting that Kampo medicine should be prescribed and supervised by qualified practitioners who are knowledgeable in Kampo formulations and their applications. They can assess your specific symptoms, medical history, and individual constitution to create a personalized Kampo formula that suits your needs.


Can acupuncture help to relieve fibromyalgia pain?

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. While the exact mechanism of how acupuncture works is not fully understood, it is believed to stimulate various physiological processes, promote the flow of energy (called Qi), and trigger the release of endorphins and other natural pain-relieving substances.

Acupuncture may offer several potential benefits for individuals with fibromyalgia:

  • Pain Relief: Acupuncture is commonly used for pain management, including the relief of fibromyalgia-related pain. The insertion of acupuncture needles at specific points can help stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body. This may help reduce pain sensitivity and improve pain symptoms.
  • Anti-inflammatory effect: Researchers have suggested several mechanisms to explain its potential anti-inflammatory effects:
    • Neuroendocrine Regulation: Acupuncture is thought to stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory substances.
    • Immune Modulation: Acupuncture has been observed to influence the activity of immune cells, such as macrophages, T-cells, and natural killer cells. These immune cells play a role in the inflammatory response, and acupuncture may help regulate their function, leading to a reduction in inflammation.
    • Modulation of Neurotransmitters: Acupuncture has been found to affect the levels and activity of various neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are involved in pain perception and immune responses, and their modulation may contribute to the anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture.
  • Relaxation and Stress Reduction: Fibromyalgia is often associated with increased stress levels, which can exacerbate symptoms. Acupuncture sessions are known to induce a state of relaxation and promote stress reduction. The calming effect of acupuncture may help reduce stress and anxiety, which can contribute to improved overall well-being.
  • Improved Sleep Quality: Many individuals with fibromyalgia struggle with sleep disturbances. Acupuncture has been shown to help improve sleep quality by promoting relaxation and reducing pain and discomfort. Better sleep can positively impact various fibromyalgia symptoms, including fatigue and cognitive difficulties.
  • Enhanced Mood and Mental Well-being: Fibromyalgia can be accompanied by mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Acupuncture may help improve mood by influencing the release of neurotransmitters and promoting a sense of well-being. It can also complement other psychological therapies by providing a relaxing and supportive environment.

    Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia in Toronto

    It’s important to note that while acupuncture may provide relief for some individuals with fibromyalgia, it may not be effective for everyone. Results can vary from person to person, and a personalized approach is essential. It’s recommended to consult with a qualified acupuncturist who has experience in treating fibromyalgia or chronic pain conditions.

    If you’re considering acupuncture for fibromyalgia or other pain conditions, A qualified acupuncturist at Kampo Health Toronto can discuss the potential benefits and risks based on your specific situation, and provide personalized guidance and treatment plan to help your conditions.

    Work with a TCM acupuncturist in Toronto for pain relief.


    Steps to managing fibromyalgia naturally

    While fibromyalgia can be challenging to treat, a multimodal approach that combines medication, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and other supportive measures can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for many individuals with fibromyalgia. Patients need to work closely with healthcare professionals to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to their specific needs.

    Naturally managing fibromyalgia involves a holistic approach that incorporates lifestyle modifications, self-care strategies, and complementary therapies such as herbal medicine, and acupuncture that can help reduce pain, improve sleep, and enhance overall well-being. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:

    • Regular Exercise: Engage in low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, or gentle stretching. Regular physical activity can help improve flexibility, reduce pain, enhance mood, and promote better sleep. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise as tolerated.
    • Stress Reduction: Practice stress-management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, or relaxation techniques. Stress reduction can help minimize symptom flare-ups and promote overall well-being.
    • Quality Sleep: Establish a regular sleep routine and create a sleep-friendly environment. Practice good sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and electronics before bed, and creating a comfortable sleep environment.
    • Balanced Diet: Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet that includes whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Some individuals with fibromyalgia may find benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet, which focuses on reducing foods that may trigger inflammation, such as processed foods, refined sugars, and certain food additives.
    • Complementary Therapies: Consider complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal medicine, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). These therapies may help relieve pain, promote relaxation, and improve overall well-being. Consult with qualified practitioners experienced in treating fibromyalgia.
    • Support Network: Seek support from family, friends, or support groups. Sharing experiences, challenges, and coping strategies with others who understand can provide emotional support and practical advice. Remember, it’s important to work closely with your healthcare provider when managing fibromyalgia naturally.

    They can provide personalized guidance, monitor your progress, and ensure that your natural management strategies are integrated safely with other medications or treatments.

    Buddha once said: Nothing is permanent. As a Chinese medicine clinician, I don’t look at fibromyalgia as a permanent medical label, I work like a detective or mechanic to investigate what is beneath the label that gives rise to the symptoms and utilizes Chinese medicine therapies to correct and balance them. If you like to try my approach, contact us or book an appointment now.

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