An overview of systematic reviews of complementary and alternative therapies for fibromyalgia using both AMSTAR and ROBIS as quality assessment tools

Rachel Perry, Verity Leach, Philippa Davies, Chris Penfold, Andrew R Ness, Rachel Churchill

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Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic, debilitating pain disorder. Dissatisfaction with conventional medicine can lead people with FM to turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Two previous overviews of systematic reviews of CAM for FM have been published, but they did not assessed for risk of bias in the review process.


Five databases Medline, Embase, AMED (via OVID), Web of Science and Central were searched from their inception to December 2015. Reference lists were hand-searched. We had two aims: the first was to provide an up-to-date and rigorously conducted synthesis of systematic reviews of CAM literature on FM; the second was to evaluate the quality of the available systematic review evidence using two different tools: AMSTAR (Shea et al. BMC Med Res Methodol 15; 7:10, 2007) and a more recently developed tool ROBIS (Whiting et al. J Clin Epidemiol 69:225-34, 2016) specifically designed to assess risk of bias in systematic reviews. Any review that assessed one of eight CAM therapies for participants diagnosed with FM was considered. The individual studies had to be randomised controlled trials where the intervention was compared to placebo, treatment as usual or waitlist controls to be included. The primary outcome measure was pain, and the secondary outcome measure was adverse events.


We identified 15 reviews that met inclusion criteria. There was low-quality evidence that acupuncture improves pain compared to no treatment or standard treatment, but good evidence that it is no better than sham acupuncture. The evidence for homoeopathy, spinal manipulation and herbal medicine was limited.


Overall, five reviews scored 6 or above using the AMSTAR scale and the inter-rater agreement was good (83.6%), whereas seven reviews achieved a low risk of bias rating using ROBIS and the inter-rater agreement was fair (60.0%). No firm conclusions were drawn for efficacy of either spinal manipulation or homoeopathy for FM. There is limited evidence for topical Capsicum, but further research is required. There is some evidence to support the effectiveness of acupuncture for FM, but further high-quality trials are needed to investigate its benefits, harms and mechanisms of action, compared with no or standard treatment.

Systematic review registration

PROSPERO CRD42016035846.
Original languageEnglish
Article number97
Number of pages23
JournalSystematic Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2017


  • Fibromyalgia, CAM, Systematic reviews, Overview, ROBIS, AMSTAR


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  • NIHR BRC Nutrition

    Ness, A. R.


    Project: Research, Parent

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