A diagram depicting the arteriole-venule shunt (AVS) and what it does.

New Research on Fibromyalgia

New research on fibromyalgia was published this past June that may be of interest to people. This was published (if a little sensationally) in the Guardian Express. The organization sponsoring the research is Intidyn, and the study they released is here.

A diagram of an AV shunt. Copyright Integrated Tissue Dynamics.I will summarize their findings in brief – if you don’t understand the terms used please refer back to the research or look elsewhere for more explanation (fibromyalgia is a big topic). People with fibromyalgia have increased amounts of a particular type of nerve fiber in their extremities (arteriole-venule shunts, or AVS). This nerve fiber controls a shunt that bypasses capillaries in the extremities. The shunt is designed to help the body regulate temperature by controlling the amount of blood flow at the skin surface in the capillaries. People with fibromyalgia have many orders of magnitude more of these nerve fibers. The nerves cause the shunts to dilate, so fibromyalgia sufferers are likely to have blood pool in the extremities rather than moved back to the central core of the body. This circulation imbalance suggests that the muscle aches typical of the disease are the result of lactic acid burn & low-level inflammation from anerobic environments. In turn, these changes result in heightened central nervous system activity & central sensitization.

Overall their comments are that fibromyalgia is the result of a circulatory problem, which then causes a neurological problem, rather than a neurological problem at the outset.

While this sheds some interesting light on the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia, it would be wise to take the “fibromyalgia solved” headlines with a heavy dose of salt. New information is welcome, and particularly information that changes our worldview of a problem, but when treatments begin to be developed on these theories we often see how much more complicated diseases can become. Every patient ends up being unique, and requiring a unique approach.

Does this new research change the focus of acupuncture treatment for fibromyalgia? Yes and no. Acupuncture treatment for fibromyalgia works on multiple levels, on a diagnosis based on East Asian medical theory. Aspects of treatment for pain and inflammation may change but that is probably all for many patients.

As far as East Asian medical theories around fibromyalgia, acupuncturists are still likely to recommend light to moderate exercise to help boost circulation, increase stamina & muscle strength, and to also recommend dietary changes to ensure the least amount of standing inflammation in the body. This, combined with acupuncture or herbal medicine offers the best recovery options we can offer.

Perhaps one day the researchers on fibromyalgia will share our views.