Recent studies indicate that approximately 2% of the population in this country suffers from fibromyalgia. The actual figure is probably much higher than that  because fibromyalgia is widely under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed. Even the people  who have been given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia have usually spent many  frustrating years trying to convince doctors that there was really something  wrong with them.

Why is it so hard for conventional Western medicine to diagnose  fibromyalgia? For one thing, there are no lab tests or x-rays that can diagnose  it. Fibromyalgia is something like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in that it is not  seen as a clear-cut disease caused by a specific agent, but rather as a  collection of symptoms. If a patient exhibits enough of the standard  fibromyalgia symptoms, then she is diagnosed with fibromyalgia (women are much  more likely to have fibromyalgia than men). Fibromyalgia means “pain of the  muscle fiber,” and the most characteristic symptom is a high level of pain in  muscle tissue. Other common symptoms are exhaustion or overwhelming fatigue,  insomnia or sleeping disorder, and very stiff muscles upon awakening in the  morning. Besides these principal symptoms, fibromyalgia patients often complain  of depression, anxiety, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Because there is no definitive test for fibromyalgia, and  because many of the predominantly female patients complain of depression, it is  not unusual for fibromyalgia patients to be treated with anti-depressants. You  can imagine how frustrating it is to go to doctor after doctor for years and be  told that the problem is all in your head. When fibromyalgia is untreated or  ineffectively treated, symptoms can be devastating to the sufferer.

Unfortunately, even when fibromyalgia is diagnosed, Western  medicine has no effective treatments to take care of the problem. It is recognized that insomnia is the common denominator of fibromyalgia patients, so sleeping  medications are almost always prescribed. Exercise is recommended, and pain medications or trigger point injections are often used. Recently, growth hormone  injections have been tried on the grounds that insomniacs don’t produce as much  of this substance as people who sleep normally, but results have been  inconclusive.

In traditional Chinese medicine theory this problem is  considered to be an imbalance of the Spleen and Heart. This pattern of  Spleen/Heart Deficiency fits the classic symptoms of fibromyalgia. Another  pattern that fits the profile of a fibromyalgia patient is called Liver Chi  Stagnation with Liver invading the Spleen. Symptoms of muscle pain and insomnia  followed as the Spleen and Heart became more deficient and imbalanced over time.
The goal of treatment was to nourish the Spleen so it could properly nourish the  Heart and other muscles, and to bring the Spleen and Heart into balance.
Acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas, and dietary recommendations were the  modalities used to do this. Calming exercise programs such as Tai Chi or yoga can also promote balance and health. After a series of acupuncture treatments  and an herbal formula called Gui Pi Wan, which is specifically designed for  Spleen/Heart Deficiency symptoms usually improve a lot.

For the 2% of the population, mostly female, who suffer from  fibromyalgia, it can be a long and difficult process even getting a diagnosis,  much less getting adequate treatment for this condition. Western medicine has  had a hard time coming to grips with fibromyalgia because there are no tests to  determine the presence of the disease, only a collection of symptoms. The two  most common symptoms are severe muscle pain and chronic insomnia. The approach of Chinese medicine is to differentiate symptoms into patterns of disease, and  then treat the patterns based on centuries of clinical experience.

The Spleen is responsible for transforming the  food that we eat into the energy (Chi) and blood that sustain our bodies.  Obviously, the health of the Spleen can be affected by inappropriate diet, but  it is also strongly affected by the emotion of worry, or over-concentration.  Chronic worry or too much studying eventually interferes with the Spleen’s  ability to generate and convey sufficient Chi and blood to the muscles and  flesh, which is an area of the body that the Spleen is especially responsible  for. The principal muscle that the Spleen needs to sustain is the Heart. The  Heart is considered to be the home of the Spirit, and has a close relationship  with the Spleen. When the Spleen cannot generate enough substance to nourish the  Heart, the Heart Chi does not have enough power to house the spirit properly,  and symptoms such as anxiety, palpitations, and insomnia result. A Spleen  Deficiency condition can result in fatigue, muscle stiffness, and pain; a Heart  Deficiency condition usually brings emotional unrest and insomnia. These two  deficiencies then feed into each other: insomnia causes muscle pain and  stiffness, and muscle pain makes sleep more difficult.

The other common fibromyalgia pattern is called Liver Chi  Stagnation with Liver invading the Spleen. One of the major responsibilities of the Liver is to ensure the  smooth flow of Chi, blood, and emotions. Since anger is the emotion associated  with the Liver, extreme or unexpressed anger can really compromise its functioning. Most people are familiar with the way the emotions of anger and fear can interfere with digestion. When we are emotionally upset, we feel that our stomachs or our intestines are “tied up in knots.” Chinese medicine says that the Liver is “invading” the Spleen or Stomach. It is interesting that about fifty percent of people with fibromyalgia also have some form of irritable bowel syndrome. This is entirely consistent with the pattern of Liver Chi Stagnation/Liver invades Spleen.

Both Eastern and Western medicine agree that insomnia is a key to fibromyalgia. Western doctors prescribe sleeping pills. Chinese medicine aims to nourish the Heart and the Liver, which are the two most important internal organs in regard to sleep, and to bring them into balance with the Spleen. With Heart blood deficiency, people find it difficult to fall asleep. With Liver Chi stagnation, sleep becomes restless, with intense dreams and a tendency to wake up early in the morning.

In helping with this condition, the goals are to regulate and move Liver Chi, harmonize the Liver and the Spleen, and nourish the Spleen so it can do its vital job of processing food into Chi and blood. This is done with acupuncture treatments combined with herbal formulas. Shu Gan Wan is an old formula which breaks up Liver Chi stagnation. Xiao Yao Wan is a formula used when the Spleen is being affected by a dysfunctional Liver. The length of time it takes to see results from treatment depends on how serious the symptoms are, but most people notice improvement after six to eight treatments.

Let doctor Li to choose the right formula for you.



About the author: ChineseHerbalAdviser