According to a study published in the October 2007 issue of Arthritis Care & Research, there are potential psychological benefits for prescribing a course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a meditative therapy, along with the conventional course of physical and pharmacological therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. The study was conducted by Elizabeth Pradhan, PhD and her team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
MBSR is a meditation training program developed by Dr. Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. MBSR instructs patients to relate differently to thoughts and emotions, and continually focus the mind on the present moment to increase clarity and calmness. The program has been shown to improve psychological symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia and cancer, among other conditions.
Patients were recruited through community health fairs and ads in several Baltimore newspapers. The study settled with 63 adult RA patients, averaging 54 years in age, mostly female, white, married, and belong to the middle-class bracket. None had a history of psychiatric illness, alcohol or drug addiction, or other chronic pain disorders. All patients remained under their rheumatologist’s care and continued to take their routine medications throughout the study.
By random assignment, 31 of the participants received intensive MBSR therapy, starting with an 8-week training course followed by a 4-month maintenance program. The remaining 32 participants were designated to a waitlist, agreeing to attend assessment sessions in exchange for free MBSR training after the study’s end. At baseline, and again at 2 months and 6 months into the study, both groups of participants underwent psychological and rheumatological examinations. RA disease status was assessed by the Disease Activity Score in 28 joints (DAS-28).
Researchers compared scores of psychological and physical disease symptoms among MBSR participants with those among controls. Overwhelming, MBSR students embraced the program and kept up their mindfulness practice throughout the followup period. After 2 months, both groups showed improvements in depressive, psychological, and emotional symptoms, with no significant benefits attributed to MBSR. By 6 months, however, gains in the control group had largely disappeared, while MBSR participants maintained or improved further in psychological outcomes. When it concluded, the study found that the MBSR group achieved a significant 35 percent reduction in psychological distress. Despite this dramatic improvement, the therapy had no impact on RA disease activity, measured by the DAS-28, which takes into account number of tender or swollen joints, a blood measure of inflammation, and the patient’s own report of disease status.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Benefit From Meditation Therapy”, site accessed on 10/08/07.