Of Mind and Body

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Fibromyalgia: Self-Awareness Exercises Decrease Pain

Group sessions helped decrease fibromyalgia pain.

A recent study has found that a self-awareness intervention significantly reduced levels of fibromyalgia-related pain. 

The study by Hsu et al. (2010) studied 45 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder whose symptoms include chronic full-body pain, excessive tenderness in at least 11 out of 18 "tender points", headaches and fatigue.  The study subjects were either placed into an "affective self-awareness" group or a wait-listed control group (no treatment). The treatment group and control group did not differ on demographics or medical history.

The treatment group received a one-time 90-minute consultation with a physician, and then completed weekly group sessions, two hours each, for three weeks total. The group sessions consisted of 8 to 12 participants, and the group was led by the physician. 

The group session consisted of four components:

  • Education about a psychophysiological model of physical pain in fibromyalgia, including case studies and research
  • Participants having "homework" of writing 30 minutes a day about their experience of emotions and stress
  • Affective awareness techniques, including guided exercises on mindfulness; non-judgmental awareness of emotions; and affirmations
  • Reintroduction to activities previously avoided

A pain inventory scale, a tender-point threshold scale, and a physical function scale was given to each study subject at the beginning of the study, immediately after treatment, and then six months after treatment.

At six months post-treatment, the treatment group had significantly lower scores of pain severity, higher physical function, and a higher tender-point threshold than the control group.  Within the treatment group, 45.8% had a 30% or greater reduction in pain severity, compared to none of the controls. 

This study shows a promising intervention for those that suffer from chronic pain due to fibromyalgia.  It would be interesting to see how this treatment helps other chronic pain sufferers as well.

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Reference: 

Hsu, M.C., Schubiner, H., Lumley, M.A., Stracks, J.S., Clauw, D.J., & Williams, D.A. (2010).  Sustained pain reduction through affective self-awareness in fibromyalgia: A randomized controlled trial.  Journal of General Internal Medicine 25(10):1064-1070.

Of Mind and Body