Music therapy in a group setting may improve the well-being and reduce anxiety in women with fibromyalgia, according to researchers from Spain.
Their study, “Randomized Trial of a Group Music and Imagery Method (GrpMI) for Women with Fibromyalgia,” appeared in the Journal of Music Therapy.
Current interventions for the treatment of fibromyalgia include both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic approaches. But medications have a limited effectiveness, may cause damage to certain organs, and increase the burden on health services.
As a result, researchers have increasingly focused on psychological treatments, demonstrating their benefits in easing fibromyalgia symptoms and helping patients learn coping techniques.
Earlier research showed that music therapy is effective in reducing pain, emotional distress, and the use of medications.
Benefits have also been reported specifically in fibromyalgia, as the combination of music, relaxation and/or guided imagery — a technique which uses mental images to help reach a relaxed state — reduced pain and depression.
Guided imagery and music (GIM) aims to improve relaxation, provide cognitive and emotional stimulation, and help develop social relationships. Imagery may evoke physical sensations, emotions, memories, or thoughts.
Research has shown that GIM improves the mood and quality of life of patients, and reduces their anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion.
But no specific assessments of fibromyalgia have been made using the GIM strategy, or its group adaptation called group music and imagery (GrpMI).
The researchers aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of a 12-session intervention with GrpMI in women with fibromyalgia. Specifically, they assessed alterations in patients’ psychological well-being, functional capacity and health, pain perception, anxiety, and depression.
The scientists compared GrpMI with a control group both immediately after treatment and at three months after treatment. They also made comparisons before and after treatment within each group.
A total of 70 women with fibromyalgia from Spain, ages 35 to 65 (median age 51), were randomly assigned to either GrpMI treatment (40 patients) or to a control group (30).
The GrpMI intervention was conducted by an accredited music and GIM therapist who is also a psychologist. Five subgroups of eight women each received GrpMI therapy.
Patients reported their experience after listening to mainly classical music. The duration of musical selections ranged from 6.36 minutes to 18.30 minutes. The patients were asked to give meaning to the images and relate them to their everyday life.
Results showed that, compared with their own pretreatment scores, women receiving GrpMI showed a significant improvement in psychological well-being immediately after treatment, as well as a decreased impact of fibromyalgia on functional capacity and health, pain perception, anxiety, and depression.
Apart from well-being, these benefits were sustained at the three-month follow-up.
Women in the control group showed a decrease in anxiety and depression immediately after treatment, but no significant benefits at follow-up.
When comparing GrpMI with the control group, the scientists found that music therapy led to significantly higher scores in well-being and less anxiety immediately after treatment, but no benefits were detected at follow-up.
These results match those of previous studies and may be explained by women no longer participating in group meetings that foster the development of social skills and help reduce the patients’ tendency for a sedentary lifestyle, the authors said.
Among the study’s limitations, the authors mentioned the lower-than-expected number of participants, which may have limited the ability to detect group differences.
Overall, the “findings offer preliminary evidence for the benefit of GrpMI to improve well-being and reduce anxiety in women with [fibromyalgia],” the researchers wrote.
“Findings also suggest that GrpMI may help diminish pain intensity, state depression, and the impact of [fibromyalgia] on functional capacity and health,” they added.
The authors cautioned that additional studies are needed to better assess the therapy’s effectiveness.