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Health, Science & Environment

Mobile app could help people manage fibromyalgia, UC study suggests

Screenshots of the Stanza app that guides patients with fibromyalgia through various evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy activities.
Swing Therapeutics
Screenshots of the Stanza app that guides patients with fibromyalgia through various evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy activities.

Just published research involving the University of Cincinnati suggests a form of self-guided behavioral therapy may have big benefits for people with fibromyalgia.

Clinical trial results from UC, in partnership with Swing Therapeutics, finds patients that used a self-guided smartphone app had significant improvements. The findings are published in the July 8 issue of The Lancet.

"For the millions of people with fibromyalgia, the publication of this data in The Lancet and the clear results represent an answer to the urgent need for effective therapies to help manage their symptoms," says Lesley Arnold, MD, study principal investigator and professor emerita at UC's College of Medicine, in a release. "Few large-scale studies over the last two decades have shown clinical benefit of novel treatments for this under-recognized and underserved condition."

RELATED: UC study may help treat diabetes, fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is estimated to affect 10 million Americans, and women are more likely than men to be affected. It's a chronic disorder causing body pains and tenderness, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. It's unclear what causes the pain and it has no cure.

UC is one of 25 locations that participated in the mobile app study. Mike Rosenbluth is CEO and founder of Swing Therapeutics, which created the Stanza app. He notes there's been a lot of research that shows cognitive behavioral therapy can help people with fibromyalgia and other types of chronic pain.

For the study, participants spent 12 weeks either using the Stanza smartphone app or, for those in the control group, a digital symptom tracker.

"Seventy percent of patients who used Stanza improved over the course of 12 weeks, as compared to 20% of patients in the control arm," Rosenbluth tells WVXU. "Virtually all secondary and exploratory endpoints were significant, including fatigue, sleep, pain intensity, pain interference and depression."

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The Stanza app offers a 12-week therapy called ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Patients spend 10 to 15 minutes per day doing a series of exercises such as an awareness exercise or meditation.

One example, Rosenbluth explains, involves identifying values and learning how to manage your relationship with your pain and symptoms to be more flexible. In this example, he uses a child's soccer game as something a patient may wish to attend.

"You may decide to not go to your child's soccer game because you're worried about the pain that might happen from sitting in an uncomfortable spot. One of the lessons that is in Stanza is to help you identify your values. ... and then what is a values-guided action that you could take to be consistent with those values for your life. (Maybe) you could commit to saying, 'I'm going to go to my child's soccer game, and I'm going to do it for 15 minutes to be there, to be present, and then that is enough for me, and then I will go.' That's a way that you could be consistent with your values, despite the symptoms that you might be having."

Rosenbluth says the Stanza app currently needs to be prescribed by a physician at Swing Care, Swing's affiliated virtual care clinic, which he reports is covered by many insurance companies.

The University of Cincinnati is a financial supporter of Cincinnati Public Radio.

Corrected: July 9, 2024 at 8:46 PM EDT
This post has been updated to correct the name of Swing Care, which was previously reported as Swing Therapeutics.
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Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.