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Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Meditation and Arthritis: Eliciting the Relaxation Response Print E-mail

As an arthritis patient, do you like to relax and unwind at the end of hard day? Maybe you enjoy listening to music, taking a long bath, or chatting with friends. All of these things are fine ways to rest and have fun, but they don't necessarily reverse the physiological stress arthritis can have on your body. For that, you need to bring on something called the relaxation response. Stress raises your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, metabolism, and muscle tension. The relaxation response lowers them again and helps restore a sense of well-being.

You can call up the relaxation response in a variety of ways, but all have two things in common:

  • Focusing on something repetitive, such as your breathing or a repeated word or phrase
  • Passively disregarding other thoughts that may come to mind

Meditate to Rejuvenate

One of the best-known ways to do this is with meditation. The practice of meditation has its roots in religious rituals, and many people still use it as a path to spiritual enlightenment. However, you don't have to have any religious or spiritual intentions to reap the benefits of a more relaxed body and a calmer mind. Meditation costs little or nothing to try, and has few risks. But does it really help? Research suggests that it can. For example, a study by researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia (General Hospital Psychiatry, 2001) looked at the benefits of a particular form of meditation on the physical and psychological health of 136 people with various chronic illnesses, including arthritis. The participants took part in an 8-week program where they learned to perform meditation and related relaxation techniques. At the end of the program, the participants reported having more energy, less pain, and fewer limitations caused by health problems than when they began.

Of course, meditation is no substitute for standard medical care, but it may be a complimentary therapy. It is very easy to get started with meditation. First, pick a focus word or phrase to repeat silently as you meditate. For example, you might choose "peace" or "let go." You also can choose simply to focus on your breathing.

  • Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes, and relax your muscles. Become aware of your own breathing.
  • Breathe slowly and naturally. Repeat your focus word or phrase as you breathe out.
  • Assume a passive attitude. Return gently to your repetition if other thoughts arise.

For more detailed guidance, there are many good books and classes available. (One classic resource: The Wellness Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Maintaining Health and Treating Stress-Related Illness, by Herbert Benson, M.D., and Eileen M. Stuart, R.N., Simon and Schuster; 1992.)

Anywhere, Anytime Tips

Ideally, meditation should be done once or twice per day for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. However, you don't always have this much time available or a quiet spot handy. Here is a quick relaxation exercise you can do anywhere, anytime:

  • Breathe in through your nose, then out through your mouth.
  • Notice how cool the air feels when you inhale, and how warm it feels when you exhale.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Meditation as a complimentary therapy can be an effective part of your arthritis pain treatment. The techniques described above may help you elicit the relaxation response lowering the stress on your body and helping you cope with arthritis pain.


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