If you're looking for another way to manage your fibromyalgia pain, you may be able to get some relief from acupuncture. But doctors say you shouldn't try it before you give traditional methods, like medicine, a chance first. And keep in mind that acupuncture probably works best when you combine it with other treatments.
When you get acupuncture, a practitioner puts thin needles into the skin on different parts of your body. No one is sure exactly how it works, but experts think it leads you to release endorphins, your body's natural "feel good" chemicals, which relieve pain.
What Should You Expect?
You can get private acupuncture treatments in a medical office or group treatment with other people in a clinic. Clinic sessions are often cheaper.
Sessions usually last at least 20 minutes. The number of treatments you need to feel any results can vary.
The first session will last longer than the others because your practitioner will ask you a lot of questions. He'll typically want to know how long you've had your symptoms, how severe they are, and what your general health is like.
Your acupuncturist will also do a quick medical exam, take your pulse, and check for any sore or tender spots.
Most acupuncture treatments use between five and 15 needles. They're hollow and so slender that you may not even feel them when the practitioner puts them into your skin.
The most common type of acupuncture is called manual acupuncture, when the needles pierce your skin.
Another kind is electroacupuncture, which is when an electric current passes through the needle. Studies show that this type may work better for fibromyalgia than the manual version.
How Safe Is Acupuncture?
The side effects that do happen are minor. Needles can hurt when they go in your skin, but if this does happen, it won't last long. You may also bleed a little bit. Rarely, people have nausea and vomiting as well as headaches, but the problems usually don't last more than a day.
Acupuncture is safe. The FDA regulates the equipment and requires that practitioners use each needle only once. You should be able to see your acupuncturist take each individual needle out of a sterile packet. Clean needles make sure that more serious side effects like infection with HIV or hepatitis B won't happen.
How Can You Find an Acupuncturist?
Look for a practitioner who is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Most states also require that acupuncturists get certified. Check with your state medical board for local requirements.
Some doctors are qualified to do acupuncture. The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture has a list of acupuncturists who are also medical doctors.