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NCCAM Clinical Digest

Chronic Pain and Complementary Health Practices—Fibromyalgia :
What the Science Says

July 2012

According to reviewers who have assessed the research on complementary health practices and fibromyalgia, much of the research is still preliminary, and evidence of effectiveness for the various therapies used is limited.

Acupuncture for Fibromyalgia

Research on acupuncture for fibromyalgia has produced mixed results.

Scientific Evidence

  • One systematic review notes that three studies found some evidence to support the use of electroacupuncture (in which the needles are pulsed with electric current). However, the effects of electroacupuncture in these studies were mostly short lived, and two studies of traditional acupuncture had negative results.

Safety

  • There are few complications associated with acupuncture, but adverse effects such as minor bruising or bleeding can occur; infections can result from the use of nonsterile needles or poor technique from an inexperienced practitioner.

Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia

Research has shown that tai chi—a mind-body practice originating in China that involves moving the body slowly, gently, and with awareness—may provide a benefit to patients with fibromyalgia.

Scientific Evidence

  • A 2010 NCCAM-funded study compared the effects of a tai chi program with a wellness education and stretching program for the management of fibromyalgia over a 12-week period. Using the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire score to measure improvements, the researchers monitored certain categories such as intensity of pain, physical function, stiffness, and fatigue. The researchers found that the participants in the tai chi group had significant improvements in pain, sleep quality, depression, and quality of life and maintained these benefits for up to 24 weeks. They concluded that larger, long-term studies are needed in order to assess the use of tai chi for fibromyalgia.

Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia

There is limited evidence that massage helps relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.

Scientific Evidence

  • A review of the research on massage therapy for fibromyalgia notes only modest, preliminary support.
  • Two studies had some positive findings, but two others found either no benefits or only short-term improvements.

Safety

  • Massage therapy appears to have few serious risks—if it is performed by a properly trained therapist and if appropriate cautions are followed. The number of serious injuries reported is very small. Side effects of massage therapy may include temporary pain or discomfort, bruising, swelling, and a sensitivity or allergy to massage oils.

Dietary Supplements for Fibromyalgia

There is no conclusive evidence that the dietary supplements magnesium and S-Adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Scientific Evidence

  • Some researchers believe that low levels of magnesium may exacerbate fibromyalgia. However, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that magnesium supplements relieve fibromyalgia symptoms. Two small studies had conflicting results.
  • Supplements containing the amino acid derivative SAMe are used for a variety of conditions. Although several small studies of SAMe for fibromyalgia have had mixed results, reviewers conclude that more research is needed.

Safety

  • According to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, dietary magnesium does not pose a health risk, however pharmacologic doses of magnesium in supplements can promote adverse effects such as diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Risk of magnesium toxicity increases with kidney failure, when the kidney loses the ability to remove excess magnesium. Very large doses of magnesium-containing laxatives and antacids also have been associated with magnesium toxicity.
  • SAMe is generally considered safe. Common side effects include gastrointestinal problems, dry mouth, headache, sweating, dizziness, and nervousness.

NCCAM Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NIH, DHHS. NCCAM Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on CAM, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCAM-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, training CAM researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov. NCCAM is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

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