Traditional Chinese Medicine for treatment of fibromyalgia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials

J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Apr;16(4):397-409. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0599.


Background: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is popular for treatment of fibromyalgia (FM) although there is a lack of comprehensive evaluation of current clinical evidence for TCM's therapeutic effect and safety.

Objective: To review systematically the beneficial and harmful effects of TCM therapies for FM.

Methods: We searched six English and Chinese electronic databases for randomized clinical trials (RCTs) on TCM for treatment of FM. Two authors extracted data and assessed the trial quality independently. RevMan 5 software was used for data analyses with an effect estimate presented as mean difference (MD) with a 95% confidence interval (CI).

Results: Twenty-five RCTs were identified with 1516 participants for this review. Seven trials (28%) were evaluated as having a low risk of bias and the remaining trials were identified as being as unclear or having a high risk of bias. Overall, ten trials were eligible for the meta-analysis, and data from remaining 15 trials were synthesized qualitatively. Acupuncture reduced the number of tender points (MD, -3.21; 95% CI -4.23 to -2.11; p < 0.00001, I(2) = 0%), and pain scores compared with conventional medications (MD, -1.78; 95% CI, -2.24 to -1.32; p < 0.00001; I(2) = 0%). Acupuncture showed no significant effect, with a random-effect model, compared with sham acupuncture (MD, -0.55; 95% CI, -1.35-0.24; p = 0.17; I(2) = 69%), on pain reduction. A combination of acupuncture and cupping therapy was better than conventional medications for reducing pain (MD, -1.66; 95% CI, -2.14 to -1.19; p < 0.00001; I(2) = 0%), and for improving depression scores with related to FM (MD, -4.92; 95% CI, -6.49 to -3.34; p < 0.00001; I(2) = 32%). Other individual trials demonstrated positive effects of Chinese herbal medicine on pain reduction compared with conventional medications. There were no serious adverse effects reported that were related to TCM therapies in these trials.

Conclusions: TCM therapies appear to be effective for treating FM. However, further large, rigorously designed trials are warranted because of insufficient methodological rigor in the included trials.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy* / methods
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / therapeutic use*
  • Fibromyalgia / complications
  • Fibromyalgia / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Massage
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional* / methods
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Management*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal