Fibromyalgia and ‘Energy Medicine’: Trying to unlock the puzzling language and belief system

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please”, Mark Twain

Given that modern medicine has been unable to find either a cause or cure for fibromyalgia it is little wonder that many have turned to an alternate way of viewing and discussing the body in order to deal with the many daily issues facing them. ‘Energy medicine’ is significant in that it has changed the discourse about the body and is the approach that is popular with those who are not mainstream health care practitioners, although, in fact, even some conventional practitioners embrace the paradigm, which continues to amaze me. Generally based upon therapies that evolved from Eastern philosophies, there is a great deal of confusion for someone sifting through the various ways in which energy medicine is presented. In most cases this belief system involves a ‘healer’, body/mind techniques and stresses self healing. It is believed by the advocates that it is a cure for many ailments, among  them fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and environmental illness.

From discussions about meridians, ’emotional freedom techniques’, Qi Gong, Therapeutic Touch (TT), reiki, Theta healing (the healer  evokes a higher power then commands a specific healing), Pranic healing (another form of nontouch energy healing, like TT), Power healing ( mantra chanting to shaking energy loose)  acupuncture and even auras and chakras, I have been left with more questions than answers as the language is both perplexing and mystical. How do you solve a problem like whether or not meridians , auras or chakras actually exist?  If they do exist, why can’t they been seen? We can see nerves within the nervous system and actually measure brain activity, but we can’t find meridians (apparently there are 14 main pathways) which are said to carry body energy into and out of the body. Where exactly are chakras which are believed to be the concentrated center of energy in the body? If the aura is thought to be a shell that emanates from the body and intersects with energy in the body why can’t we find it?

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Other important questions: where is the Qi (chi or ch’i) which is not detectable by empirical science but integral to all these practices? Is it like the soul which also cannot be seen, but many believe in? Do we have to have blind faith to believe that Qi exists? How does tapping on the presumed meridians of certain body parts (Emotional Freedom Techniques) release negative emotions by unblocking Qi, which is supposedly an energy that permeates everything and flows along the meridians. I have done Qi Gong (for the exercise component which, like Tai Chi, is useful for movement purposes) EFT and Jin Shin (which I loved by the way, but then I like all forms of gentle touch but it must involve actually touching of the body, which serves to quiet my nervous system), but I never quite believed I was tapping into meridians nor moving electrical currents through these meridians. The biggest question of all is why the language of the nervous system, nerve function and brain activity (about which a great deal of empirical evidence has been known for decades) has become invaded by language of energy medicine, which does not have a correlation with organs and nerves? It is interesting to me to find the conversion of scientifically trained physicians, nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists who have embraced energy medicine in rather great numbers.

Within the past decades there has been a great burst of interest among those with the so-called invisible ‘diseases’, such as fibromyalgia in this different paradigm than that of evidence based medicine . For a long time I too spent many hours and great expense trying these various approaches, but to no avail. But what of the very old practice of acupuncture, an approach that has been used relatively effectively, for some, for hundreds of years, along with the more recent practices of wearing magnets, EFT, EMT, NEAT, TT, and Qi Gong, just to mention a few others in the energy medicine arena? Sorting through them all we are left to wonder how this elusive energy (which is said to be comprised of electrical currents that are disturbed in those of us with pain and/or illness) can be restored to balance  through these techniques.

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While this imbalance is somewhat akin to the hyper-aroused nervous system of a highly sensitive person that needs restorative balance, I am unclear why the language has become that of unseen waves of energy in the meridians in lieu of the visible nervous system and brain activity for those of us in pain. Acupuncture has pinpointed (no pun intended) 500 specific points in which sticking needles into body parts can open up blocked Qi. So then, how about some possible explanations about why there is some degree of success with acupuncture? Perhaps this is due to the placebo effect, or acupuncture could be said to block the transmission of pain from various areas in the body to the central nervous system. Equally as possible it is likely that sticking needles (or pressing on) certain points affects the nervous sytem and stimulates endorphines and releases serotonin. We simply do not know specifically how acupuncture can help in pain control in some people.

However, I do respect the good intent of those in the alternate paradigm to bring about an awareness of the body/mind connection of fibromyalgia. There is little doubt that the nervous system needs an approach that can tame the turmoil that plagues every day existence. But, believing that tapping myself in various parts of the body (EMT) is going to release stuck energy in the meridians fails to convince me of its efficacy. I do however, recognize that the body and mind are deeply connected in such invisible conditions as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Strengthening exercises and practicing relaxing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis to help reduce stress and induce deep breathing helps calm the nervous system and is much cheaper and more effective (in my view and from my experience) for fibromyalgia than going to expensive practitioners who purport to cure fibromyalgia.

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