Fibromyalgia, which celebs Lady Gaga and Morgan Freeman live with, is incurable.
Treatments tend to be based on making the condition easier to live with.
Patients often end up on antidepressants or having counselling to deal with their pain, as well as medicine to alleviate the symptoms.
The new treatment is based on an unconventional method of helping patients how to “accept” their pain.
The programme, created by Swing Therapeutics, involves “daily doses” of therapy on someone’s mobile phone over 12 weeks.
A “daily dose” might include a prompt for a mindfulness session or a short writing prompt.
The method is called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which teaches patients to accept what is outside their control, while focusing on the good things in life.
Although it doesn’t target the actual pain, people who have used ACT have reported an improvement in their quality of life.
On the back of such research, the US drug regulator (FDA) has approved for a digital version of ACT to be trialled faster.
It could mean Americans are able to start using the therapy on their phones, in the comfort of their own home, as early as next year.
But the some two million Brits thought to have the condition may have to wait, as there does not appear to be a trial of digital ACT in the UK.
However, ACT is aready used alongside cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for some patients, Fibromyalgia Action UK said.
Chair Des Quinn said: “There have been as with other treatments mixed results from patients but we have some very positive accounts of it helping people.
“Availability around the UK for ACT and CBT varies significantly.
“Using a phone as a delivery method is a new approach and we would like to see this being validated. But this approach would help make it available to more people potentially which would be a positive step.”
Given the huge waiting lists for free NHS services like CBT, Mr Quinn added: “We need new methods of supporting patients and evolutions like this are promising for all chronic pain patients if they are proven effective.
“People with fibromyalgia need additional tools in their toolkit even if they only help with some aspects of the condition.”
What is the treatment?
The programme was based on one created by the University of Manitoba, Dakota, which patients did over eight weeks on a computer.
It was shown to improve depression symptoms, sleep, pain perception, fatigue and psychological distress in 67 patients in 2018.
At least 25 studies have been conducted on ACT generally.
A review of them found patients’ anxiety and depression linked to the condition was alleviated significantly more than typical treatments.
“What ACT does is it tries to help people accept those symptoms and things that are uncontrollable,” Mike Rosenbluth, the founder and CEO of Swing Therapeutics, said, according to TechCrunch.
“It helps people think about their values — what is really important to them. And then they try to make behavior-based changes aligned with those values.”
Rosenbluth said there were clinical trials of the programme in the pipeline for later this year.
It already has an ongoing study of 67 people and is recruiting 150 patients for another.
The last stage trials – phase three – are expected to launch at the end of 2021, which will then be given to the FDA for approval as a new treatment.
The treatment would need to be approved by the UK regulator, the MHRA, in order for Brits to receive it.