Fibromyalgia has now been recognized as a distinct disease entity by the World Health Organization and the American College of Rheumatology, and more physicians and researchers have become interested in studying it. In 1999, the American National Institutes of Health spent $4.7 million on fibromyalgia research, up from $3.1 million in 1998, and three times the funding provided in 1993. Research aimed at uncovering the cause(s) of fibromyalgia, as well as developing treatments and perhaps even a cure, is currently conducted or overseen by several organizations, including the American National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and National Centre of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
A Brief History of Fibromyalgia
Symptoms of muscle aches and body pains have been described throughout history. In the Bible (Job 30:17), Job laments, “The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.” Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite and originated the Nobel Prize, may have endured fibromyalgia, too. Many letters to his mistress describe multiple muscle aches and pains, migraine headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, cold intolerance, and problems when the weather changed.
Finally, in 1987, the American Medical Association recognized fibromyalgia as a legitimate illness, largely due to a study by Dr. Don Goldenberg, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which described the symptoms, lab findings, and treatment results of 118 patients with fibromyalgia. Goldenberg used the terms ‘fibrositis’ and ‘fibromyalgia’ interchangeably at the beginning of the paper, before switching to the exclusive use of ‘fibromyalgia’ throughout the rest of the paper.
In another JAMA article, Dr. Robert Bennett wrote: “The term fibromyalgia has evolved from another with the same meaning, namely, fibrositis.” The latter term, Bennett argued, was a misnomer and inaccurate. ‘Itis’ implies inflammation, but muscle biopsies of patients with fibromyalgia typically do not show evidence of inflammation, and the pain of fibromyalgia usually does not respond well to anti-inflammatory medications. ‘Myalgia’, on the other hand, refers to pain of the muscles without implying inflammation. ‘Myalgia’ is therefore a more appropriate term to use.
On January 1, 1993, the Copenhagen Declaration established fibromyalgia as an official disease recognized by the World Health Organization. The document described the condition as painful, non-articular (not in the joints), and predominantly involving the muscles. The World Health Organization added several other symptoms to the list, including “the presence of unexplained widespread pain or aching, persistent fatigue, generalized morning stiffness, and non-refreshing sleep.”
The Copenhagen Declaration also recognized depression and anxiety as possible manifestations of the syndrome, and declared the problem to be the most common cause of chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain. After decades of being snubbed by mainstream medicine, the collection of symptoms we now call fibromyalgia went from a questionable diagnosis to the world’s most common cause of chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain.
In terms of official medical recognition, fibromyalgia has arrived. Because so few medical doctors recognize fibromyalgia when they see it, and because the condition resembles, and even overlaps with, so many other health problems, fibromyalgia is often missed or misdiagnosed. Sometimes the medical doctor suggests that it’s all in the patient’s head.
In fact, it’s all in the body, potentially affecting many different systems, including the musculoskeletal, digestive, immune, circulatory, endocrine, and nervous systems. Can it be treated or cured? Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to treat this problem using traditional Western medicine. Some holistic family physicians try to use alternative ways to heal, often with better results.
Traditional Chinese Medical Point of View
First of all, the medical concepts between East and West are very different. I often use the term ‘macro correlation concept’. We cannot apply mechanistic thinking to the human body because it is an organic whole. Second, looking at the activity of cells or organs is not enough.
From my personal experience, since I was a kid, I have observed my mother and sister complaining about muscle pain when my family was under a lot of stress. After 30 years of practising acupuncture in different parts of the world, such as California, New York, Toronto, and different cities in China, I have noticed that more people suffer this disease in large cities, rather than in the countryside.
The Bible of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yellow Emperor Classic, written by scholars approximately 2,600 years ago, mentions that ‘qi block’ causes pain. What is qi? Apparently, Chinese scientists are piecing together the fundamental characteristics of qi (life energy). So far, they know that it has four characteristics: electric, magnetic, infrared, and infrasonic. So many scientists in China are now concentrating their work in this field that a special branch of science – chiconology – has been developed.
In physical terms, human beings can be reduced to a collection of electromagnetic fields. What we perceive as solid tissue is actually a mass of cells made up of chemical substances that are collections of atoms. Every action consists of protons (positively charged), neutrons (no charge), and electrons (negatively charged). Electrons are more easily dislodged from atoms than protons, and are the main carriers of electric charge. Thus, at the atomic level, the body is a mass of energy fields that influence one another.
I often use acupuncture and Chinese herbs to reduce the blockage of qi in the human body. Depending on where the blockage occurs (different parts of the body relate to different organs and different energy channels, namely meridians), the results can be very good because acupuncture consists of a self-adjusting mechanism.
Because oriental medical science is a combination of art and science, the proper manipulation of the needles is extremely important, along with the proper diagnosis. Usually after the first visit, even with acute pain, the patient should feel some degree of improvement. For long term improvement, the patient can learn qi gong, meditation, and/or yoga. In the chronic stage, you have to work on an emotional level, as the vital energy in the human body (qi) is strongly affected by emotion.