A study performed by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that 6 months of meditation helped rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients reduce their stress by as much as 33%.
The research was based on a training course called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR). MBSR teaches patients to focus calmness, clarity, well-being and compassion. Earlier studies had shown that MBSR had a positive impact on the psychological symptoms of patients with chronic pain, , MS and anxiety disorders.
In addition to the meditation, the patients continued to receive treatment from their regular physician including taking any medications they were already prescribed.
The participants of the study completed questionnaires prior to the start, as well as at 2 and 6 months into the study. The questionnaires were used to assess their depression and stress level. In addition, blood measurements were taken of the level of inflammation and their joints were evaluated for RA status. These indicators were compared to those of a group that did not receive the meditation course.
After 2 months there was equal improvement in terms of depression and emotional symptoms. But by 6 months there was a significant (35%) improvement in psychological distress in the meditation group.
The researchers emphasized that the meditation did not have any impact on the progression of the disease itself, but that the patients who practiced MBSR improved their sense of well-being. It did provide the patients the ability to better cope with the symptoms of RA.
Being able to reduce stress and depression may also contribute to increased function for arthritis patients. Other potential methods identified for reducing stress include biofeedback, hypnosis, yoga and tai chi.