Acupuncture therapy is safe and effective for patients with fibromyalgia, helping to manage chronic pain and improve quality of life, a study suggests, but more trials are still needed to support its findings.
The study, “Acupuncture therapy for fibromyalgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials,” was published in the Journal of Pain Research.
Chronic pain is one of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia. Others include fatigue, sleep difficulties, depression, and anxiety, which all contribute to a lower quality of life.
With no cure available for fibromyalgia, treatment takes a multidimensional approach with patient education, behavioral therapy, exercise, and pain management.
The most common approach for pain management involves different combinations of medicines that are only mildly effective. Current European guidelines indicate that initial pain management for fibromyalgia should focus on nonpharmacological therapies, such as acupuncture.
Acupuncture therapy is widely used to manage pain for different conditions, and previous trials have shown promising results about its use to manage fibromyalgia-related pain. However, review studies that evaluated available trials until 2013 could not reach a conclusion about the effects of acupuncture on fibromyalgia.
In this systematic review study, researchers included data from recent randomized trials to investigate the safety and efficacy of acupuncture therapy on pain intensity and quality of life for fibromyalgia patients.
They evaluated 12 trials that compared acupuncture therapy to sham acupuncture — a placebo consisting of needle insertion at irrelevant acupuncture points, or skin contact without needle insertion — or to conventional medication.
Eight trials assessed manual acupuncture, and two trials studied electroacupuncture versus a placebo. Results showed that acupuncture therapy, regardless of the type, was more effective in reducing pain than a placebo in the short and long term.
The evidence was more robust for manual acupuncture, likely due to the limited number of studies using electroacupuncture.
Two studies compared acupuncture therapy to conventional medication and showed that acupuncture was more effective at reducing pain in the short and long term. However, the evidence was considered weak.
Acupuncture also had a positive effect on quality of life, but the evidence was not as clear as for pain reduction. Further studies are necessary to understand this association fully.
In general, acupuncture did not produce any side effects, and when reported, the side effects were mild and included bruising, soreness, nausea, and discomfort due to needle insertion.
The authors concluded that “acupuncture therapy is an effective and safe treatment for patients with (fibromyalgia), and it can be recommended for the management of (fibromyalgia).”
However, more large-sample randomized clinical trials are needed to investigate the therapeutic effect of electroacupuncture for fibromyalgia in the long term, they added.