Fibromyalgia (FM) is a common and disabling chronic pain disorder, for which existing pharmacological and psychological treatments have yet yielded insufficient effects. Previous literature has shown that exposure therapy may be an effective treatment for chronic pain. This study constitutes the first randomized controlled trial evaluating exposure therapy for FM.
A total of 140 participants with diagnosed FM were randomized to a 10-week Internet-delivered exposure treatment (iExp; n=70) or a waitlist control condition (WLC; n=70). Primary outcome measure were FM symptoms and impact, and secondary outcome measures were fatigue, disability, quality of life, pain-related distress and avoidance behaviors, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
Data retention was high (100% data completion at posttreatment for primary outcome, 96% at 6-month follow-up and 94% at 12-month follow-up). Results showed that participants in the iExp group made large and superior improvements compared with WLC on FM symptoms and impact (B, −1.93; z, −10.14; P<0.001, between-group Cohen d=0.90), as well as all secondary outcomes (between-group Cohen d ranging from 0.44 to 1.38) with sustained results.
We conclude that iExp seems to be an efficacious treatment for FM compared with no treatment, and the results also highlight the potential increase of accessibility by using the Internet format to deliver psychological treatments for these patients. Future trials with active control conditions are warranted.