Case Studies: Herbs for Fibromyalgia

Stop the pain of fibromyalgia with herbs.

| March/April 2005

  • California poppy helps relieve anxiety.
    Photo by Christopher Hobbs

Fibromyalgia (a syndrome characterized by chronic pain and fatigue) often is associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. The precise causes of each remain a mystery, though immune suppression seems to be a factor.

Jody’s Case

Jody was a 32-year-old student working hard to finish her bachelor’s degree in fine arts. She came into the office for the same reason as many patients dealing with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia: Her doctor had run out of ideas. The doctor had prescribed many of the usual drugs, including the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline; the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine; the SSRI antidepressant Celexa; the sleeping aid Ambien; the anticonvulsant clonazepam; the antidepressant trazodone; and the opioid pain medication Ultram.

Celexa had worked for a few months, but Jody developed anxiety and her sleep became even worse than usual. Ultram helped with the pain for about a year, but again, she eventually developed severe anxiety and had to stop. “I buy Tylenol by the case, but have to switch off with other pain medications I buy without a prescription,” she said. “They work for a few hours sometimes, especially after a hot bath.”

As we discussed her health history, Jody mentioned several factors strongly associated with immune suppression—10 years on antibiotics for acne during her childhood and several infections during her late teens and early 20s, including a severe bout of mononucleosis, associated with the common Epstein-Barr virus. It is perhaps the most common viral agent associated with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

Internal Imbalances

A look at Jody’s tongue revealed a number of imbalances in her Spleen system, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The Spleen system encompasses most notably the digestive organs and immune function. A working diagnosis for her general condition was “Spleen qi deficiency,” and secondarily, “Kidney qi deficiency” and  “Heart fire.” Her tongue was so swollen it had formed around her teeth, creating indentations, and the tip was bright red. Her tongue was shaking, another sign of qi deficiency.

Not every fibromyalgia patient I’ve seen has had a Spleen imbalance, but from what I’ve seen and the research I’ve done, this is by far the most common underlying pattern. If digestive symptoms occur along with fatigue and myalgia, brain fog and some of the other common symptoms, this is a reliable sign of Spleen qi deficiency with immune suppression.

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