Mind-Body Therapy Possibly Promising Treatment for Fibromyalgia

A study with 45 female Fibromyalgia patients revealed that those who learned a mind-body therapy technique known as “affective self-awareness” were more likely to show a significant pain reduction over a 6-month time period.  According to the recent article on Reuter’s Health:

A form of ‘mind-body’ therapy that focuses on the role of emotions in physical pain may offer some relief to people with fibromyalgia, a small clinical trial suggests.

Overall, 46 percent of the women had a 30-percent or greater reduction in their pain severity, as measured by a standard pain-rating scale. In contrast, of study participants who were assigned to a wait-list for therapy, none showed a similar decline in pain.

Those of us who have suffered from Fibromyalgia for years know and understand that our brains perceive differently than the average person’s brain perceives pain.  Someone can touch us lightly on the back or any part of our body and it can hurt like crazy, make us jump, or feel like we were hit really hard.  Doctors will prescribe painkillers, antidepressants, Lyrica, and other drugs to try and help fight the pain.  Normally all we get done doing is taking more pills because nothing helps with the pain.  Cognitive behavior therapy and exercise are also used to help treat Fibromyalgia.  Light exercise helps me with my Fibromyalgia pain – I just have to watch what I do very closely because of the CFS. 

The researchers on this study say that all of these other painkillers and prescription drugs aren’t helping Fibromyalgia patients because they do not “specifically address the role psychological stress and emotions can play in triggering people’s pain.”

That is not to say that the pain people with fibromyalgia feel is “all in their head,” stressed Dr. Howard Schubiner, of St. John Health/ Providence Hospital and Medical Centers in Southfield, Michigan.

“The pain is very real,” Schubiner said in an interview. But, he explained, pain and emotions are “connected in the brain,” and emotional factors may act to trigger “learned nerve pathways” that give rise to pain.

This was the first study to test affective self-awareness for Fibromyalgia.  The study did have several limitations with one of them being the small size of the control subjects and the control received no active therapy to serve as a comparison.  

That is important because it is possible for patients to benefit from simply receiving attention from a healthcare provider, or being part of small-group sessions with other people suffering from the same condition, for example.

Schubiner also acknowledged that this general “model” for understanding and addressing fibromyalgia pain is controversial.

Affective self-awareness, a technique Schubiner developed and uses in treating certain chronic-pain conditions, involves an educational component where patients learn about the emotion-pain connection. They learn specific techniques — including mindfulness meditation and “expressive” writing — for recognizing and dealing with the emotions that may be contributing to their pain. Patients are also encouraged to get back to any exercise or other activities that they have been avoiding due to pain.

Affective self-awareness and cognitive behavior therapy are similar in that they both teach patients they have the power to improve their own health.  The main difference is that affective self-awareness asks people to “directly engage” the emotions that may be helping to drive their symptoms.


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