Thursday, August 19, 2010


The Times today as a story headlined, "Tai Chi Eases Symptoms of Fibromyalgia."

Which reminded me of this story:
Fake acupuncture appears to work just as well for pain relief as the real thing, according to a new study of patients with knee arthritis.
Because so far as I can tell "fibromyalgia" is just a fancy name for "unexplained pain and fatigue." Which is not to say that people who think they have it are not suffering; we suffer from lots of things we don't understand. I am going to offend a lot of people when I say that I think fibromyalgia has a large psychological component, but I don't mean by that to dismiss anybody's misery. Because, see, all pain has a psychological component. ("Pain, Captain, is a thing of the mind," said Spock in a famous scene.) People with arthritis in their knees have an easily identifiable source for their pain, and nobody doubts that it is a physical thing, and yet some arthritis patients have been greatly relieved of that pain by wholly imaginary treatments. And, on the other side, psychological conditions like depression and anxiety can have serious physical symptoms.

Our brains are part of our bodies; to say that something is "in our heads" is not to say that it is not real. Psychic pain is not imaginary. I strongly suspect that many people who suffer from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other vague but debilitating conditions have problems that might be best described as spiritual: their lives are screwed up or unhappy, and that makes their bodies sick. That doesn't mean we shouldn't give them medical help if it works. After all, many people end up with heart disease for reasons that can be traced back to a screwed up, unhappy life, and they can still be helped by drugs or surgery.

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