Only nine weekly sessions of personalized acupuncture for 20 minutes may reduce pain in and improve function of people suffering from chronic pain disorder fibromyalgia, new research has discovered.

Writing in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, researchers from the Doña Mercedes Primary Health Centre in Spain note that the benefits of personalized acupuncture appeared to manifest until a year later.

Fibromyalgia, which affects one in 20 individuals worldwide, is primarily marked by chronic pervasive pain linked to fatigue, irregular sleep patterns and depression. About 90 percent of its sufferers try alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage and hydrotherapy to address their condition.

So far, however, most of the evidence of the pros and cons of acupuncture for alleviating pain symptoms are based on clinical trials of standard instead of individualized treatment.

Studying 153 adults with fibromyalgia, the researchers compared personalized acupuncture therapy with sham treatment. The subjects, who continued to take their prescribed drugs such as pain relievers and antidepressants, were randomly assigned to a real or simulated treatment in nine weekly sessions of 20 minutes each.

Using a scoring system, the subjects were asked about their levels of pain, depression, as well as physical and mental quality of life before the study and at 10 weeks, six months, and a year after treatment began. Using the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire, they were also asked about changes in their condition.

The researchers found after 10 weeks that the subjects’ perceived intensity of pain was lower in the real acupuncture treatment group, their pain scores dropping by 41 percent on average. Those with sham treatment had an average drop of 27 percent.

The changes were felt after a full year, with the pain score in the real treatment group dipping 20 percent on average – compared to the more than 6 percent drop in the sham treatment group.

Also improving significantly in the first group were areas of pain intensity, such as pressure pain threshold and the rate of tender points in the body, as well as anxiety, depression, and fatigue measures. These changes also manifested even after a year, although the team cautioned that the patients used higher antidepressant levels, which may have inflated the positive results.

The researchers concluded that tailored acupuncture may be a viable fibromyalgia treatment, with few and mild noted side effects.

"Such an outcome has not been reported by previous studies following the application of standardized treatments,” write the authors, emphasizing the need for individualized therapy modes.

These findings prove to be important given the other life-disrupting symptoms of fibromyalgia, which may vary from one individual to another. These signs may include headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and sensitivity to sounds and bright lights.

Unfortunately, the exact roots of fibromyalgia are not well-understood, although stressful life events, repetitive injuries, and links to other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis may be risk factors at play.

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