Rheumatoid Arthritis – mind body therapies

Home » Rheumatoid Arthritis – mind body therapies


All diseases involving chronic pain can become amplified over time through fear, depression and stress as the patient’s coping strategies become fatigued by the length of time the pain has persisted for. Mind-body therapies aim to alter the patient’s emotional state or use physical movement to divert attention away from pain and aid mental relaxation. There is some evidence that aromatherapy, yoga, hypnotherapy and massage are all of benefit to patients.

Massage for arthritis

Massage for arthritis

Studies have shown that group courses tend to have a greater impact on pain reduction than individual sessions. Working in groups tends to lessen feelings of isolation and depression that can come with chronic pain.

Effective mind-body practices for people with RA include relaxation, laughter therapy, guided imagery, meditation, gentle yoga, hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy.


A 2014 US report reviewed all of the studies to date on the use of Yoga to manage arthritis.  The review concludes that although different types of yoga were used and for different lengths of time. 6 out of the 9 studies showed that yoga was a beneficial activity for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Hypnotherapy and Relaxation
A 2002 study which compared the effectiveness of hypnotherapy and relaxation therapy with a no-treatment control group, in a trial of 36 patients with osteoarthritis found the hypnotherapy group enjoyed substantial reductions in pain by the fourth week of treatment. The program gave the patients eight weekly sessions beginning with standard relaxation , followed by positive imagery and memories from childhood that involved joint activity. The pain reduction experienced continued through three and six month follow-up checks. However, although the no-treatment group showed no change, those having relaxation therapy displayed the same level of pain relief by the end of the eight week course and this was also maintained through to the six month follow-up.

A recent study compared moderate intensity massage to light massage in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The therapist massaged the affected arm and shoulder once a week for four weeks and the patients were also taught how to self massage and then practised it on a daily basis.
Interestingly the light massage group benefited most initially but by the end of one month, the moderate massage group has less pain, greater grip strength and greater range of motion in their wrist and large upper joints (elbows and shoulders).


A small study carried out on 40 patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis assessed the effect of aromatherapy oils on symptoms of pain, depression and patient quality of life scores.  patients were treated with a blend of lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary and peppermint in a 2:1:2:1:1.  Results showed that the aromatherapy decreased the pain and depression levels of the patients but surprisingly did not change their life satisfaction scores.

Field et al. Rhematoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy. Complement Ther Clin Pract. May 2013.
Mendonca et al. Effects of Pilates exercises on health-related quality of life in individuals with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Arch Phys Med Rehabil Nov 2013.

Sharma. Yoga as an alternative and complementary approach afor arthritis: a systematic review. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. jan 2014.

Kim et al. The effects of aromatherapy on pain, depression and life satisfaction of arthritis patients. Taehan Kanho Hakoe Chi. Feb 2005.

Elkins et al. Hypnotherapy for the Management of Chronic Pain. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. July 2007.

Hassed et al. Mind-body therapies use in chronic pain management. Austr ~Fam Physician. mar 2013.




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