A novel psychological treatment that helps patients address emotional issues, including trauma and relationship problems, was successful in relieving chronic pain related to fibromyalgia, according to researchers from Wayne State University and the University of Michigan Medical Center. The researchers’ findings were published in the journal PAIN.
Mark A. Lumley
“The current approaches to dealing with fibromyalgia, which are largely pharmacological, have had very limited benefits,” Mark A. Lumley PhD, a professor of psychology at Wayne State University and lead researcher, told Healio Rheumatology. “The typical patient is searching around for some medication or combination of medications that might make some dent in their symptoms, and it’s not so great.”
To determine how addressing emotional issues could help patients with fibromyalgia, the researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial of 230 adults with the chronic condition. Each patient received one of three treatments for eight weekly sessions. The new treatment, which the researchers called Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy (EAET), encouraged patients to view their pain and other symptoms as stemming from changeable neural pathways in the brain that are strongly influenced by emotions. At 6 months after treatment, researchers evaluated the patients for the severity and extent of their pain and other symptoms.
According to the researchers, patients who received EAET experienced a reduction in widespread pain, physical impairment, attention and concentration problems, anxiety and depression compared with those who received the educational intervention. Among patients who receive EAET, 34.8% reported they were “much better” or “very much better” than before the treatment compared with 15.4% of the patients who received the educational intervention. In addition, EAET demonstrated greater benefits than cognitive behavior therapy in reducing widespread pain.
“Chronic pain and fibromyalgia is largely a brain-based phenomenon, and the neural pathways in the brain that perceive pain, that augment pain, that generate pain, overlap a lot with pathways that deal with danger signals and threat,” Lumley said. “If you could change those pathways with respect to a person’s sense of power or fear, reducing fear and increasing their power by resolving some of those emotional constraints, it simultaneously reduce the pain experience.” – by Jason Laday
Lumley M, et al. PAIN. 2017;doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001036.
Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.