This one is close to my heart. I have a very close family member who suffers from fibromyalgia. And I see the pain and struggle she goes through every day. We have tried a lot of different things. She has gone gluten free, which has helped a lot (though I don't think this is for everyone) [she has, since this was published, started eating gluten again without consequences]. Her primary therapy is attempting to keep stress at bay through various means including exercise, hobbies, and relaxing. In addition, she tries to stay away from drama and stressful situations and benefited from healthy eating, cognitive therapy (often, a primary recommendation of treatment guidelines) and tries to honor her symptoms: she rests when she needs to.
When she allows me to perform acupuncture, it does help the pain quite a bit...but there are many times when she just doesn't want to be touched in any way. The one thing she doesn't want to do, for various legitimate reasons including chemical sensitivities, is herbs. And, of course, that is the thing I have seen which produces the best results long term. I have treated many fibro patients...they have all gotten better but to various degrees. Some have no pain so long as they get regular herbs and acupuncture. Some feel better for a short while after treatment while herbs reduces the number of exacerbations. In other words, I have seen Chinese medicine do wonders for fibromyalgia. It does take a little while to dial in the right treatment for each individual patient, like needing to use very thin needles and a light touch in my loved one. But once dialed in, it can be help substantially. But as is all conditions, individuals respond differently to acupuncture and herbs and differently to various other interventions.
There has been a lot of research on fibromyalgia and Chinese medicine, primarily because Western medicine's approach is to use heavy pharmaceuticals: effective, but with lots of side effects.
Here is a great, recent randomized controlled trial (RCT). It was a little small (50 patients), but was statistically significant and followed the patients for 7 months after treatment. They concluded, "We found that acupuncture significantly improved symptoms of fibromyalgia," including pain, fatigue, and anxiety.
Here is a similar RCT comparing real versus sham acupuncture. They concluded, "real acupuncture treatment seems to be effective in treatment of" fibromyalgia.
Here is a systematic review of using Chinese medicine for fibromyalgia. It concludes Chinese medicine "therapies appear to be effective for treating" fibromyalgia. However, this was published in a relatively less recognized journal than others.
A Cochrane Library review (considered by many to be the gold standard of reviews) concludes "there is low to moderate-level evidence that compared with no treatment and standard therapy, acupuncture improves pain and stiffness in people with fibromyalgia." It does go on to discuss real versus sham acupuncture, which is a real issue and a big debate happening in acupuncture research.
And to be completely fair, here are two reviews that are negative on acupuncture and fibromyalgia. Both were in the well-regarded journal, Rheumatology, one was published in 2007 and the other in 2010. Both emphasize the sham versus real acupuncture debate. In a quick summary, some researchers believe sham acupuncture is a great control for these studies, while others, myself included, believe that sham acupuncture protocols are not actually sham and therefore make poor controls.
Check out my short article on how acupuncture may reduce coronary heart disease in fibromyalgia patients.
My loved one, after a longer than usual bout of pain and after talking with one of my mentors, decided to try herbs. The results were immediate and dramatic: her pain almost disappeared. Overnight. She has had some pain since starting the herbs, but it has been a lot less intense and for much, much shorter periods of time (and almost always during periods of stress). In other words, the herbs have been almost as successful as possible. And it continues...she found the herbs were not working quite as well, but a little tweak to them, restored their full effectiveness. She has been going really, really strong for about 6 months as I am writing this.