Online Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Reduced Fibromyalgia Symptoms, Canadian Study Shows

Online Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Reduced Fibromyalgia Symptoms, Canadian Study Shows

An online version of the acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), a treatment based on mindfulness and acceptance strategies, significantly reduces the symptoms of fibromyalgia, according to Canadian researchers.

The study with those findings, “Randomized controlled trial of online acceptance and commitment therapy for fibromyalgia,” were reported in The Journal of Pain.

Recently, ACT has been proposed as a possible method to fight fibromyalgia symptoms, which include  chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and sleep and concentration problems.

ACT is a cognitive-, behavioral-based intervention that relies on mindfulness and acceptance strategies to reduce the patient’s perception of symptoms.

It involves six interrelated processes — acceptance, contact with the present moment, self as context, cognitive defusion (“thoughts simply as thoughts”), connecting with personal values, willingness and commitment.

ACT has been shown to reduce the negative impact of fibromyalgia in several randomized, controlled studies. With that in mind, researchers at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, Canada, evaluated, for the first time, the effectiveness of an online ACT protocol in patients with fibromyalgia.

A total of 67 participants were enrolled in the study and assigned to receive either the online ACT, or the standard treatments for these patients (termed in the study as “treatment as usual” (TAU).

Participants were asked to complete seven modules of therapy over an eight-week period. Assessments were completed at pre-treatment, post-treatment and three-month follow-up.

Fibromyalgia effects was measured according to description of cognitive/mental symptoms (depression, pain, pain acceptance, sleep, mindfulness, cognitive defusion, among others) and physical (six-minute walk and sit to stand test) symptoms.

Results showed that online ACT significantly reduced fibromyalgia symptoms compared to the TAU group, with the highest effects seen after the treatment and at follow-up.

That reduction was mediated by improvements in patients’ pain acceptance, as a result of the therapy. In fact, pain resistance worsened the symptom.

ACT also reduced depression and kinesiophobia (fear of pain due to movement) scores.

Researchers concluded that patients with fibromyalgia may benefit from online ACT with minimal additional monitoring, representing an effective, accessible and cost-effective treatment for these patients and others with chronic pain conditions.

“This study is important for two reasons. One, it provides evidence that ACT, a newer treatment approach that promotes psychological flexibility and valued living, can be particularly helpful for people with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, for which sustained symptom reduction tends to be less obtainable,” Gregg Tkachuk, PhD, explained in a press release. Tkachuk is an assistant professor at the department of Clinical Health Psychology, Max Rady College of Medicine, University of Manitoba.

“And two, it suggests a method of developing ACT to many people with fibromyalgia who may otherwise not be able to obtain help due to limited access to trained clinicians and treatment centers, or prohibitive costs,” he added.

This type of therapy recently had been shown to help women with fibromyalgia lessening their disability due to pain and mental health.