The results of the study, “Effectiveness of acupuncture vs. core stability training in balance and functional capacity of women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial,” were published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation.
Balance often is impaired in people with fibromyalgia, and puts patients at a higher risk of falls.
Exercise and acupuncture both have been recommended for the management of the disease, but so far no studies have addressed whether acupuncture and core stability training also benefit patients’ balance.
To find out, researchers at the University of Extremadura in Spain conducted a clinical trial (NCT03638518) in which 135 women with fibromyalgia were assigned randomly to one of the two approaches, given over 10 sessions, or to no intervention (controls).
Women in the exercise group participated in physical therapy sessions designed to improve their core stability. The program included seven exercises, and the goal was explained to participants before initiating the treatment sessions.
The acupuncture group received treatment tailored to fibromyalgia patients, as interpreted by traditional Chinese medicine. This included five needle insertions in each session, one at the highest point in the head, two in the anterior region of the lower legs, and one on each foot.
The trial’s main goal was to determine if the interventions improved static balance, dynamic balance, and functional mobility.
Static balance was assessed by asking participants to stand in a platform, using both legs or only one, during 30 seconds.
In turn, dynamic stability and functional mobility were measured with three tests: the Berg Balance Scale, which quantifies balance during a series of predetermined tasks; the timed up and go test of the time a person needs to stand up from a chair, walk three meters, turn around, walk back to the chair, and sit down again; and the 10-meter walk test, which assesses the time a person needs to walk 10 meters (almost 11 yards) at a comfortable speed and at maximum speed.
A secondary goal was an improvement in the ability to perform daily functions, measured with the Fibromyalgia Health Assessment Questionnaire (FHAQ) and the physical function item from the Spanish Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire.
All these tests were conducted at baseline (study start), after the five weeks of treatment (week six), and after an additional follow-up period of five weeks (week 13). Overall, 103 women (mean age 55.5 years) completed the study — 26 on exercise therapy, 34 on acupuncture, and 33 controls.
Results showed that static balance was not affected by either acupuncture or core stability training, but both approaches significantly improved scores of the Berg Balance Scale and timed up and go test at weeks six and 13.
The two interventions also improved scores in the 10-meter walk test at a comfortable speed at week six, but these differences were lost at week 13. In addition, the group receiving exercise training showed improvements in the 10-meter walk at maximum speed at both weeks six and 13, a benefit not observed in women receiving acupuncture.
Still, no significant differences were seen comparing acupuncture to exercise.
Regarding functional capacity, or the ability to perform tasks of daily living, both acupuncture and core stability training showed some benefits, but none of the improvements reached statistical significance, the researchers found.
The findings suggest that both core stability exercise and acupuncture improved dynamic balance and postural control in women with fibromyalgia, compared to patients receiving no intervention.
“In any future research, we would recommend that core stability training and acupuncture was combined to assess whether better improvements in balance and functionality can be achieved,” the researchers wrote, adding that extending treatment for longer periods and having a control intervention may increase the benefits and reduce patient withdrawal.