Psychological interventions for rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Arthritis Rheum. 2002 Jun 15;47(3):291-302. doi: 10.1002/art.10416.


Objective: To carry out a systematic review of the literature examining the efficacy of psychological interventions (e.g., relaxation, biofeedback, cognitive-behavioral therapy) in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: Studies that met the following criteria were included: random assignment, wait-list or usual care control condition; publication in peer-reviewed journals; treatment that included some psychological component beyond simply providing education information; and separate data provided for patients with RA if subjects with conditions other than RA were included. Two investigators independently extracted data on study design, sample size and characteristics, type of intervention, type of control, direction and nature of the outcome(s).

Results: Twenty-five trials met the inclusion criteria. Methodologic quality was assessed, and effect sizes were calculated for 6 outcomes. Significant pooled effect sizes were found postintervention for pain (0.22), functional disability (0.27), psychological status (0.15), coping (0.46), and self efficacy (0.35). At followup (averaging 8.5 months), significant pooled effect sizes were observed for tender joints (0.33), psychological status (0.30), and coping (0.52). No clear or consistent patterns emerged when effect sizes for different types of treatment and control conditions were compared, or when higher quality trials were compared to lower quality ones. Findings do, however, suggest that these psychological interventions may be more effective for patients who have had the illness for shorter duration.

Conclusions: Despite some methodologic flaws in the literature, psychological interventions may be important adjunctive therapies in the medical management of RA.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / psychology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Biofeedback, Psychology*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Relaxation Therapy*