Tailored acupuncture lessens chronic pain intensity in patients with fibromyalgia and improves functional capacity and quality of life, according to Spanish researchers.
The beneficial effects of nine weekly sessions of individually tailored acupuncture were still evident a year later, suggested the study published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.
“Our results suggest that applying individualised treatment algorithms when starting a course of acupuncture may be important”
Fibromyalgia affects up to one in 20 people and is characterised by chronic widespread pain that is associated with fatigue, disordered sleep patterns and depression.
Previous evidence suggests that 90% of patients with fibromyalgia have tried some form of complementary therapy.
The study authors said most of the past data looking at whether acupuncture alleviated symptoms had been based on trials of standard treatment.
Instead, they compared individually tailored acupuncture treatment with sham treatment in 153 adults diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Participants were randomised to nine weekly sessions of acupuncture or sham treatment – each lasting 20 minutes – while continuing to take their usual prescribed drugs to alleviate symptoms.
They were asked about perceived levels of pain, depression and quality of life before treatment began and then again after 10 weeks, six months, and 12 months.
They were also asked about changes in the overall impact of their condition, as measured by the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) at 10 weeks, six and 12 months.
After 10 weeks, perceived pain intensity was lower among those given real acupuncture, with pain scores dropping by an average of 41%, compared with 27% for those given the sham treatment.
Significant differences persisted after a year, with an average fall of 20% in the pain score among those treated with acupuncture, compared with just over 6% for those given the sham version.
In addition, FIQ scores differed significantly between the groups at the follow up points, with reductions of 35%, 25% and 22% for the acupuncture, compared with 24.5%, 11% and 5%.
Half of chronic pain patients have tried alternative therapy
Other factors, including pressure pain threshold and number of tender points also improved significantly more in the acupuncture group after 10 weeks, as did levels of fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
These differences were also evident after a year, although the researchers cautioned that participants were using higher levels of antidepressants over time.
“This treatment produced an improvement in the participants’ condition, reflected by a reduction in pain intensity and enhanced functional capacity and quality of life after the intervention and during the follow up period,” said the researchers led by Dr Jorge Vas from the Doňa Mercedes Primary Health Centre in Seville.
“Such an outcome has not been reported by previous studies following the application of standardised treatments,” they said. “Therefore, our results suggest that applying individualised treatment algorithms when starting a course of acupuncture may be important.”