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PhD student Kayla Wall is a member of the Family Health Lab in the Department of Psychology and Health Studies. (Photo: submitted)

USask researcher to examine mindfulness as treatment for teens’ menstrual pain

Clinical psychology PhD student Kayla Wall says up to 90 per cent of adolescents who menstruate experience pain, and as many as 25 per cent do not benefit from medication

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By Shannon Boklaschuk

A University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher is launching an online group for teens to explore whether mindfulness can assist in managing their menstrual pain.

Kayla Wall, who is pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology in USask’s College of Arts and Science, said mindfulness involves “purposely focusing your attention on thoughts, feelings and sensations in the present moment and accepting them without judgement, even if those events are painful, unpleasant or difficult.”

“Many studies have shown that mindfulness is beneficial in managing various pain conditions, including headaches and migraines,” said Wall, a member of the Family Health Lab whose research is supervised by Dr. Michelle Gagnon (PhD) in the college’s Department of Psychology and Health Studies.

“Although pain in and of itself leads to suffering, the often unpleasant emotions and thoughts about the pain experienced can create additional suffering,” Wall said. “By practicing mindfulness, individuals learn that suffering and distress are secondary, optional components of unavoidable pain that can ultimately worsen their experience of pain.”

Wall said statistics show that up to 90 per cent of teens who menstruate experience menstrual pain, and up to 76 per cent miss at least one day of school or activities each month as a result. While some pharmacological treatment options are available, the medications don’t work for everyone, Wall said, noting as many as 25 per cent of individuals with menstrual pain do not benefit from first lines of treatment.

“Further, many individuals experience unpleasant side effects, contraindications or simply have a personal preference to use non-pharmacological options to treat their menstrual pain,” she said. “Having non-pharmacological options to treat menstrual pain can provide individuals with an alternative to pharmacological treatments, or non-pharmacological options could be used as an adjunct to pharmacological approaches.”

A key component of Wall’s research study will be the creation of an online mindfulness-informed group for teens ages 14 to 18 who experience menstrual pain. During the program, a group of six to 10 adolescents will meet virtually via Zoom for an opportunity to learn mindfulness skills to manage their menstrual pain. Each session will incorporate educational components, group discussions and mindfulness practice activities.

The study, which is part of Wall’s PhD dissertation research, will be conducted in collaboration with researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto. The mindfulness-informed group has been adapted for adolescents with menstrual pain based on an intervention that was originally developed at SickKids for adolescents with chronic pain.

“In addition to the group component of the study, participants will be asked to complete short online questionnaires via SurveyMonkey to help us understand how the program might be working for the teens,” said Wall. “Ultimately, this mindfulness program may provide teens with skills to help manage their menstrual pain independently, allowing them to continue to participate in activities important to daily living despite menstrual pain. “

The mindfulness-informed pilot intervention will include one 90-minute session per week for six weeks. Teens who are interested in participating can contact Wall via email at kayla.wall@usask.ca to set up a Zoom meeting so that Wall can meet with them and their parents or guardians to discuss study details, answer their questions and obtain consent to participate.

“We chose to focus on teens for this research because of the prevalence and impact of menstrual pain amongst teens,” said Wall. “Menstrual pain is the most common gynecological complaint amongst adolescents. While as many as 90 per cent of adolescent girls experience menstrual pain, one in four girls rate their menstrual pain as severe or very severe.”

Since mindfulness interventions have been shown to improve pain, distress and disability associated with a number of conditions—including irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, migraines and endometriosis—mindfulness could be a promising intervention for adolescents who experience menstrual pain, Wall said.

“The goal of mindfulness isn’t necessarily to eliminate pain but is more about changing an individual’s relationship with pain so that they may experience relief,” she said. “Therefore, if individuals with pain can form healthier responses to pain, they may be able to experience relief and less suffering, regardless of the specific pain condition.”


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