Traditional Chinese acupuncture may have little effect at relieving the pain of fibromyalgia.

Researchers compared the effects of true acupuncture to three forms of fake acupuncture in people with fibromyalgia. They found true acupuncture didn’t offer any significant pain relief benefits compared with the sham treatments.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition affecting up to 4 percent of the U.S. population. It causes pain and tenderness in the muscles and joints.

Researchers estimate that 60 percent-90 percent of people with fibromyalgia use complementary or alternative treatments to treat their symptoms. Of those, as many as one in five has tried acupuncture for pain relief.

However, previous studies of acupuncture in fibromyalgia treatment have produced inconclusive results, in part because the participants were aware of whether or not they received the treatment. In studies of pain relief treatments, a placebo effect is common in which participants report pain relief if they think they received the actual treatment (even if they only received a placebo).

Read WebMD's "What Is Acupuncture and How Does It Work?"

Acupuncture Fails for Fibromyalgia

To avoid such placebo-effect problems in this study, researchers compared the effects of true acupuncture, as performed by a trained and licensed acupuncturist, to three different fake forms of acupuncture in 100 people with fibromyalgia. The results appear in the July 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The sham acupuncture treatments included needles inserted at points for treating a different condition, inserting needles at points that are not acupuncture points, and using needle-like devices that did not pierce the skin.

Each of the participants received one of the four treatments twice weekly for 12 weeks. The participants were also allowed to continue any other fibromyalgia treatments they were using before the study began.

The participants rated their pain on a scale of 1 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain ever) at several points during the 12-week study.

The study showed no differences in pain relief between the four treatment groups.

Researchers say the study may have been too small to detect small differences between treatment groups, but their results show that acupuncture in itself does not provide significant pain relief benefits in treating fibromyalgia.

Read WebMD's "Acupuncture May Be Useful for Migraines"

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCE: Assefi, N. Annals of Internal Medicine, July 5, 2005; vol 143: pp 10-19.