Got chronic pain? Your phone might help heal you

Researchers in the U.K. find that hundreds of patients with chronic widespread pain who underwent cognitive behavioral therapy by telephone reported improvements after six months.

Do you hurt everywhere? Can't find any lasting solutions? Before you start popping pills, consider a little talk therapy--by telephone.

Researchers find that exercise and therapy by telephone each appear to help those with chronic widespread pain. Patrick Denker/Flickr

Chronic widespread pain, a condition called fibromyalgia, affects as many as 1 in 10 Americans, and is notoriously tricky (and expensive) to manage.

In the first six months following diagnosis, it costs on average $3,481 for medications, consultations, tests, and emergency room visits, according to researchers at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Manchester, both in the U.K.

So the researchers decided to investigate two less expensive alternatives: exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy (by phone).

In their study of 442 patients aged 25 to 60 with chronic widespread pain, the researchers found that both approaches resulted in patients reporting feeling "better" or "very much better" six months into treatment. (Combining the two approaches did not appear to provide additional benefit.)

These results, which appear this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, "demonstrate that we can improve symptoms for many people," said Gary MacFarlane of Aberdeen in a statement about the findings. "We have examined two options--a graded exercise program and CBT--and found both to be effective."

Specifically, the researchers found that after six months, 8.1 percent of participants in the control group reported positive outcomes, compared with 29.9 percent of the talk therapy group, 34.8 percent of the exercise group, and 37.2 percent of the combined intervention group. Results were similar at a nine-month follow-up.

It remains unclear what actually causes fibromyalgia, but another study this week found that women who sleep poorly could be at higher risk for fibromyalgia, while the condition is often linked to the rise in prescription painkiller abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy by phone, meanwhile, has already been shown to be effective in treating anxiety.

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About the author

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Ore., and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.

 

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