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Mindfulness Reduces Stress, Fatigue in Rheumatoid Arthritis


It’s clearly a case of mind over matter: use of a meditation technique called mindfulness reduced both stress and fatigue—but not pain—associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Authors of a new study noted that mindfulness helped patients better cope with the stress and demands of the disease.

Mindfulness was combined with creative exercises

Mindfulness is a form of meditation, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, that involves clearing the mind and being aware of each moment without judgment or thinking about it. More and more, mainstream practitioners are incorporating mindfulness meditation into their treatment programs for symptoms and conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, stress, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and pain.

In a new small study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, researchers evaluated 67 patients (ages 20 to 70) with rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or psoriatic arthritis for at least 12 months. The patients were randomly assigned to participate in either 10 group sessions of mindfulness exercises over 15 weeks, plus a booster session 6 months after the end of the course, or to standard care plus a CD containing similar mindfulness exercises for home use.

During the mindfulness sessions, the patients were led by trained professionals and encouraged to deal with their limitations and their emotions, as well as practice awareness. Creative exercises including music, drawing, and guided imagery were also part of the sessions.

Compared with the patients who did not participate in the mindfulness sessions, those who did generally had substantial improvements in their levels of stress and fatigue. Eleven of 13 patients who had had high stress scores before attending the sessions subsequently scored lower at the 12-month follow-up.

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Fatigue levels also were significantly reduced at 12 months among the patients who participated in mindfulness compared with the control group, who reported no change. When it came to pain levels, disease activity, or the ability to discuss their feelings, however, there were no differences between the two groups of patients at 12 months.

Although the participants in this latest study did not get pain relief when practicing mindfulness meditation, another recent study had different results concerning pain, although the subjects did not have rheumatoid arthritis or related conditions.

In a study at Harvard Medical School, mindfulness practitioners and controls received unpleasant electric stimuli during mindfulness practice and a control condition. The researchers found that those who practiced mindfulness, but not the controls, were able to reduce pain unpleasantness by 22% and anticipated anxiety by 29% during a mindful state.

According to the authors of the rheumatoid arthritis study, their findings “indicate that the participants may have incorporated some mindfulness strategies into their daily lives and that these strategies have strengthened their ability to respond to their stressful experience in a more flexible way.”

Thus the take-home message may be that rheumatoid arthritis patients may want to consider mindfulness meditation as a way to complement their treatment, and as a result they may experience some relief from the stress and fatigue that can accompany the disease.

Gard T et al. Cerebral Cortex 2011 Dec 15
Zangi HA et al. Annals of Rheumatic Diseases online 2011; doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2011-200351

Picture credit: PhotosPublicDomain



A holistic approach is the most effective. Diet and lowering stress seem to play an important role. I use natural pain patches from Imbue for muscle pain.