Fibromyalgia and CAM: At a Glance
People with chronic health conditions such as fibromyalgia often turn to some form of
complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)—a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and
products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine. This fact sheet provides basic
information on fibromyalgia and "what the science says" about the effectiveness of CAM
practices that many people with fibromyalgia use. If you are considering a CAM therapy for fibromyalgia, this information can help you
talk to your health care provider about it.
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Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue. People with fibromyalgia have chronic widespread
pain, as well as "tender points" on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs, which hurt when slight
pressure (about 9 pounds) is applied.
People with fibromyalgia may also have other symptoms, such as:
- Trouble sleeping
- Morning stiffness
- Problems with thinking and memory (sometimes called "fibro fog")
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
Women with fibromyalgia may also have painful menstrual periods. Fibromyalgia may also be associated with
The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown, but problems with the nervous system could be involved. It is estimated
that fibromyalgia affects as many as 1 in 50 Americans. Most people with fibromyalgia are women, and most are
diagnosed during middle age. However, men and children also can have the disorder.
CAM Practices Used for Fibromyalgia
Conventional therapies for fibromyalgia are limited, and research shows that about 90 percent of people with
fibromyalgia use some form of CAM. CAM practices used by people with fibromyalgia include:
- Chiropractic care
- Magnesium supplements
- Magnet therapy
- Massage therapy
- SAMe (S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine)
- Tai chi
© Bob Stockfield. Courtesy: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
What the Science Says About CAM and Fibromyalgia
According to reviewers who have assessed the research on CAM and fibromyalgia, much of the research is still
preliminary, and evidence of effectiveness for the various therapies used is limited.
- Research on acupuncture—stimulation of anatomical points with thin metallic
needles—for fibromyalgia has produced mixed results. One review article notes that three studies found some
evidence to support the use of electroacupuncture (in which the needles are pulsed with electric current).
However, the effects of electroacupuncture in these studies were mostly short lived, and two studies of
traditional acupuncture had negative results.
- Some researchers believe that low levels of magnesium may contribute to fibromyalgia.
However, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that magnesium supplements relieve fibromyalgia symptoms.
Two small studies had conflicting results.
- A review of the research on massage therapy for fibromyalgia notes only modest,
preliminary support. Two studies had some positive findings, but two others found either no benefits or only
- Supplements containing the amino acid derivative SAMe are used for a variety of
conditions. Although several small studies of SAMe for fibromyalgia have had mixed results, there is some
evidence of a benefit. Reviewers conclude that more research is needed.
- Finally, according to reviewers, research evidence is insufficient to draw conclusions about the
effectiveness of other CAM treatments—biofeedback, chiropractic care, hypnosis, and magnet therapy—used for fibromyalgia.
NCCAM Research on Fibromyalgia
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) funds
clinical trials that look at CAM for fibromyalgia, including:
- The effects of tai chi on fibromyalgia patients' musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep quality,
psychological distress, physical performance, and health status
- Brain-imaging techniques for determining whether acupuncture relieves pain due to fibromyalgia
- The effectiveness of a form of electroencephalograph (EEG) biofeedback in treating fibromyalgia.
If You Are Considering CAM for Fibromyalgia
- Talk to your health care providers. Tell them about the therapy you are considering and ask any questions
you may have. They may know about the therapy and be able to advise you on its safety, use, and likely
effectiveness in relieving your fibromyalgia symptoms.
- If you are considering a practitioner-provided CAM therapy such as acupuncture, check with your insurer to
see if the services will be covered, and ask a trusted source (such as your fibromyalgia doctor or a nearby
hospital or medical school) to recommend a practitioner. Although acupuncture treatment is generally safe,
complications can result if needles are not adequately sterilized or if the treatment is not properly
- If you are considering dietary supplements, keep in mind that they can act in the same way as drugs. They
can cause medical problems if not used correctly or if used in large amounts, and some may interact with
medications you may take. The health care providers you see about your fibromyalgia can advise you.
- Tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a
full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips
about talking with your health care providers about CAM, see NCCAM's Time to Talk campaign.
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