New Study: ACT for Chronic Headache Pain

New Study: ACT for Chronic Headache Pain

The Study
In a study recently published in the journal Headache, preliminary evidence was found to support to use of ACT for chronic headache pain.  The study aimed to examine the efficacy of group-based ACT treatment for reducing the experience of pain, disability, and affective distress due to recurrent episodes of headache pain.  The study sample consisted of outpatient Iranian women.
ACT has been validated through numerous studies to date for chronic pain and has been given the highest grade of evidenced-based backing by APA division 12, ‘strong research support’.  While division 12 includes headache pain within the general category if chronic pain, there has been a gap in the literature to date regarding the efficacy of ACT specifically with severe and chronic headache pain.
The results of the study indicated that the addition of 8 weeks of ACT group treatment (in addition to treatment-as-usual) produced significant reductions in disability and affective distress due to pain.  However there were not significant reductions in sensory experience of pain.
What Does This Mean
These findings are consistent with similar studies in that ACT treatment does not tend to reduce pain intensity itself, but rather reduces pain-related disability and affective distress related to how the person copes with the pain. ACT aims to help the person change their relationship with pain, so that they can hold it more gently and spend less time in pain-related rumination. This aspect of ACT is similar to other mindfulness-based interventions, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. In addition to changing one’s relation to pain, another major focus of  ACT is increasing engagement with valued life domains such as work, play, exercise, and flexibly moving on with life even as pain occurs. This aspect is relatively less emphasized in most other mindfulness-based therapies and is a unique contribution of ACT
The Takeaway
The evidence supporting the use of ACT for chronic pain is strong. This study further elaborates the kinds of chronic pain problems that ACT can be applied to, suggesting that ACT might work well in the area of chronic headache pain.

For further information and news on evidenced-based treatment for headache pain, please see the author’s website – Headaches101.com.

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