Occupational Therapy Program Can Improve Fibromyalgia Patients’ Lives, USC Study Finds

Occupational Therapy Program Can Improve Fibromyalgia Patients’ Lives, USC Study Finds

An occupational therapy intervention program can improve the quality of life, confidence and functional abilities of people with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions, according to a study featured in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

By involving patients in frequent interactions with occupational therapists who guide them, researchers aim for patients to gain motivation, identify solutions, and build healthy habits.

The intervention, called Lifestyle Redesign, is the invention of researchers at University of Southern California (USC) Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

“Having quantitative evidence for occupational therapy’s effectiveness in chronic pain management is really valuable,” Ashley Uyeshiro Simon, OTD, the study’s lead author and an assistant clinical professor at USC, said in a USC news release written by Mike McNulty.

Simon developed the program together with colleague Chantelle Collins, also an associate clinical professor at USC. In the program, patient and therapist work together exploring weekly topics that might focus on physical activity, body mechanics, or preparing a plan, and for when pain strikes.

In addition to fibromyalgia, people with lumbar back pain, complex regional pain syndrome, and other forms of myalgia were included in the program.

“These types of diagnoses are long-term, difficult to manage and can’t just be fixed quickly,” said Simon. “It’s in these types of cases, where the physician scratches their head without an immediate solution, that our lifestyle-based intervention can really help.”

In their study, Lifestyle Redesign® for Chronic Pain Management: A Retrospective Clinical Efficacy Study,” researchers analyzed the outcomes of 45 enrolled patients. Results were clear. Patients had improved their occupational performance and scored higher in satisfaction assessments after trying the program.

They also had better physical and social functioning, and lowered their role limitations caused by physical and emotional issues. In addition, patients reported less fatigue, a better general health, and improved confidence in their ability to manage various issues related to pain.

Researchers believe this study is the first to show an objectively measurable improvement after a lifestyle-based treatment model delivered solely by occupational therapists.

A review of occupational therapy-based approaches to managing chronic pain, performed in 2011, showed that evidence for the approach was scarce, despite decades of studies. The researchers believe that now their study can strengthen the field by providing evidence of effectiveness and by supporting its practitioners.

“A lot of occupational therapists work in chronic pain without realizing it — you might not be labeling it ‘chronic pain,’ but you are still treating a person’s pain from an occupational perspective,” said Simon.

More importantly, however, is the evidence’s impact on reimbursement. Evidence of effectiveness might be used to support reimbursement claims from health payers, which in many cases can determine if a patient can access such treatment.

“The annual costs of pain management, both from direct medical expenses and from lost workforce productivity, run in the hundreds of billions of dollars,” Simon said. “We’ve shown that occupational therapy can ease that burden by helping to improve everyday function and quality of life, one patient at a time.”



  1. Gryfalcon says:

    “…scored higher in satisfaction assessments after trying the program.” In other words, there was no objective measure. Smile a lot and make your patients feel pampered and they will “score” their “satisfaction” with your “treatment” higher because they are getting all that love and attention. But, does it actually WORK? Be warned, these types of research seem benign and warm and fuzzy, but they are used by governments to deny long term disability claims and to attempt to force patients into treatment protocols that do not work. It is important to use objective measures in research, because bad science is worse then no science at all.

    • Magdalena Kegel says:

      Hi Gryfalcon,

      Assessing pain and social or physical functioning is no easy task. There are, however, validated tools to do so. The research team used outcome measures included the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure, the 36-Item Short-Form Survey, the Brief Pain Inventory, and the Pain Self-Efficacy Questionnaire to assess patients. These are all validated tools that can provide objective evidence of a program’s efficiency in attaining it’s goals.

      On top of this, patients reported on their perception of fatigue, general health, confidence, and satisfaction with the program. These are, naturally, not objective measures, but add to the findings of the study.

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