News & Perspectives

Mind-Body Therapies Show Promise for Rheumatoid Arthritis
What the Study Showed

Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine report in the June 2002 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism that mind-body therapies, including progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, stress management, and cognitive-behavioral ("talk") therapy, can have a significant positive effect on several aspects of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Specifically, improvements were noted in reduced levels of pain, ability to function, depression, coping, joint tenderness, and feelings of helplessness.

How It Was Done

The researchers established strict scientific criteria (controlled, double-blinded, randomized selections) for the 25 research trials they decided to include in this comprehensive review, known as a meta-analysis. The authors examined the impact of the mind-body therapies at two points in time: directly following treatment, and at a follow-up point, which varied from study to study.

The meta-analysis indicated that mind-body therapies provided a small but statistically significant positive impact on pain and functionality, as well as on depression, coping skills, and self-efficacy (an outcome that measures feelings of helplessness). At follow-up--an average of 8.5 months after study start--positive effects on coping, psychological status, and tender joints remained significant, whereas those for pain, disability, and self-efficacy were less notable.

Over time, the benefits of mind-body therapies became most pronounced for easing tender joints and managing depression. The fact that these therapies exercised a beneficial effect on the participants' coping ability was the largest and most consistently significant finding across all the studies analyzed. The data also suggested that psychological therapies offer the greatest benefit to RA patients who have been diagnosed for a relatively short period of time.

Why It's Important

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, progressive autoimmune disease that can sap a person's physical strength and put their emotional and psychological coping skills to the test. This condition can be very hard to control and frustrating to treat, which is why it's so notable that mind-body techniques may truly help sufferers cope with their disease and feel better physically.

Future research will need to determine which of the therapies are most effective for which type of RA patient (male, female, older, younger). Also to be examined is whether mind-body techniques have the potential to reduce the current reliance on medications.

Source: Astin, J, Beckner W, Soeken K, et al. Psychological Interventions for Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Arthritis & Rheumatism. 2002;46:291-302.

Date Published: 08/31/2002
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