Volume 12, Number 15 April 1, 2005

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Grad students testing novel treatment for fibromyalgia

By Heather Watson

Clinical Psychology PhD candidate Melanie Langford.

Photo by Heather Watson

Two U of S psychology students are currently testing an innovative approach to treating fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome that affects three in every 100 Canadians.

There is no known cure for the disease and the cause is also unknown. Symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, fatigue, poor memory, a decreasing ability to concentrate and widespread pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Due to a lack of research and knowledge, treatments are not standardized. Often patients are just left to cope with the symptoms themselves. Sometimes a light, carefully regulated exercise program or physiotherapy is recommended. In other cases, patients may be given low doses of anti-depressant medications to help with pain management and sleep.

Psychology PhD student Melanie Langford has adapted an existing arthritis management manual to help fibromyalgia sufferers. She focuses on teaching techniques for pain management and relaxation, as well as general strategies for coping with the illness. Her modifications also include an interpersonal therapy approach.

“If this proves to be an effective treatment, I would like to try implementing it in hospital or clinic settings,” Langford says. “It is a manual-based treatment so it should be easy to implement. Perhaps we will also be able to adapt it for other illnesses like multiple sclerosis or diabetes.”

Her supervisor Michael MacGregor hopes that the non-pharmaceutical approach will improve the quality of life for sufferers.

Since April 2004, Langford and fellow clinical psychology doctoral student Tarah Hook have been running eight-week treatment sessions for sufferers. So far, 50 volunteers have participated in the study and they are hoping to recruit another 40 to 50 participants for further trials this year.

Volunteers are divided into two groups – a telephone contact group that serves as the control, and a treatment group. Those in the control group have the opportunity to participate in the treatment group after the follow-up period. Volunteers in the treatment group attend weekly sessions which include pain management, coping skills and interpersonal therapy based on Langford’s manual.

All volunteers are asked to fill in questionnaires about their health and well-being throughout the study and up to six months after treatment. That information enables the researchers to examine the effectiveness of the treatment over time.

Analysis of the data is just beginning but preliminary comments from the volunteers suggest that the treatment is helpful.

“We have had very positive feedback from volunteers,” Langford says. “One of my participants said it was the best thing she’d done for herself in her life.”

“Some volunteers have been travelling up to four hours to attend sessions,” she says. “So far, the meetings have all been held in Saskatoon at the U of S and we’ve provided parking and tried to accommodate volunteers’ schedules. If a lot of people from the Prince Albert area volunteer, we will also try to run a group there.”

The sessions will be completed by August and Langford aims to complete her dissertation by August 2006. She hopes to publish the results in the journal Pain.

The researchers are looking for more participants and will be offering groups into the spring and summer.

Women with fibromyalgia wanting to learn coping skills and management strategies to improve symptoms and quality of life are invited to contact Melanie Langford at 270-9224 or e-mail: melanie.langford@usask.ca.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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