Counselling, positive thinking and meditation techniques may be more effective than painkillers in helping people with arthritis to cope with pain, say experts from the University of Manchester.
Their study, published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, suggests the mind could hold the key to relieving the chronic aches and pains suffered by millions of people with arthritis as well as reduce sufferers’ use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
The concept correlates with the positive approach to arthritis self-management promoted by The Arthritic Association, which recently held a two-day self-management event in Eastbourne covering issues such as positive thinking and problem solving.
Professor Anthony Jones of Manchester University’s Human Pain Group – based at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust – is one of the authors of the study, which involved 120 volunteers.
“The extent of pain experienced by sufferers of arthritis has always been thought to result from the direct consequences of joint destruction,” says Professor Jones. “However, the extent of pain is often poorly related to the amount of damage and can spread to nearby regions of the body where there is no evidence of arthritic disease. We wanted to look at what might be causing this.”
The volunteers were split into three groups: some had osteoarthritis, some had fibromyalgia and the rest did not have any joint problems. All were subjected to tests using a laser that applied a mild heat to the back of their arms while wearing an electrode skull cap to measure their brain activity. What the researchers discovered was that when the volunteers were expecting the heat burst from the laser, they felt more pain than when they were not expecting it.
“This suggests we should be putting more resources into a common approach to developing new therapies that target these potential brain mechanisms,” says Professor Wael El-Deredy, who worked with Professor Jones and Dr Chris Brown on the study.
“Our previous work has shown that brain responses to pain expectation can be altered by relatively short and inexpensive mindfulness-based talking therapies in patients with different types of chronic pain.
“Our current findings therefore provide both a new target for development of new therapies and some optimism for simple interventions to improve the brain’s control of chronic suffering endured by many patients with chronic pain conditions.”
The Arthritic Association is planning further self-management events this summer. For more details, email@example.com or call 01323 416550/ 0800 652 3188