Good Mental Health Treatment can Lessen Arthritis Pain

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A new study suggests that how much pain osteoarthritis sufferers feel is directly related to their mental health, so says researchers at UC Davis School of Medicine. The new study has found that people with better mental health felt less pain than people with mental health problems.

Arthritis pain linked to mental health treatment

"We found that increased levels of pain were associated with worse mental health at baseline," said Barton L. Wise, an assistant professor of general internal medicine and the study's lead author. "And further, pain flares were associated with poorer mental health during the week prior to the pain flare."

"Pain varies over time, both over extended periods and over shorter periods," Wise said. "The same person can feel little or no pain in their knee or hip, and later they can feel moderate-to-severe pain even when the extent of damage to the knee or hip joint as seen on x-ray imaging remains the same."

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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease involving the loss of cartilage and bone at the joints and can be very painful. Osteoarthritis has an estimated 27 million sufferers in the United States and is a leading cause of knee- and hip-replacement surgery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For this research, researchers studied 266 subjects all of whom had hip or knee pain, responded to questions about their pain and psychological states.

"Pain is difficult to study in part because experiences and reporting of pain differ from one person to another. There can be differences in people's central or peripheral nervous systems, past experiences of pain or cultural differences in perceptions of pain, and these make it very complicated to look at differences in pain across individuals. Our study design helped eliminate some of those obstacles," Wise said. "But it's likely that people's pain is the result of a large group of different factors rather than something as simple as one specific physiological factor."

While the study did not measure whether participants suffered from clinical conditions like depression, it suggests that mental-health treatment could improve patients' osteoarthritis pain -- especially because there are no medications that have been proven effective for changing the overall course of osteoarthritis. Current treatments for osteoarthritis include weight loss, improved diet, vitamin consumption and over-the-counter analgesics like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

"With the paucity of effective interventions for osteoarthritis pain and the toxicities of some in common use, mental health may represent a new therapeutic target for osteoarthritic pain, with potential significant opportunities for both patients and physicians," the study says.

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