Testing a Positive Psychological Intervention for Osteoarthritis

Pain Med. 2017 Oct 1;18(10):1908-1920. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnx141.


Objective: Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability for which there is no cure. Psychosocial-oriented treatments are underexplored. We developed and tested an intervention to build positive psychological skills (e.g., gratitude) to reduce osteoarthritis symptom severity, including pain and functioning, and to improve psychosocial well-being in patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis.

Design: Two-arm randomized design with six-month follow-up.

Setting: An academic Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Subjects: Patients aged 50 years or older with knee or hip osteoarthritis and pain ratings of 4 or higher.

Methods: Patients (N = 42) were randomized to a six-week program containing positive skill-building activities or neutral control activities tailored to the patient population. Adherence was assessed by telephone each week. We assessed osteoarthritis symptom severity (WOMAC Osteoarthritis Index) and measures of well-being (positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction) at baseline and by telephone one, three, and six months after the program ended. We used linear mixed models to examine changes over time.

Results: The majority (64%) of patients completed more than 80% of their weekly activities. Patients in the positive (vs neutral) program reported significantly more improvement over time in osteoarthritis symptom severity (P = 0.02, Cohen's d = 0.86), negative affect (P = 0.03, Cohen's d = 0.50), and life satisfaction (P = 0.02, Cohen's d = 0.36).

Conclusions: The study successfully engaged patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis in a six-week intervention to build positive psychological skills. Improving osteoarthritis symptom severity and measures of psychosocial well-being, the intervention shows promise as a tool for chronic pain management.

Keywords: Mind-Body Therapies; Osteoarthritis; Psychology; Psychosocial factors; Veterans; Chronic Pain.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / psychology*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Management / psychology*