Mind-centered techniques that can help you heal your arthritis
The Arthritis Foundation says on its website that, ‘by conservative estimates, about 54 million adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis.’ Furthermore, they start off their How to Prevent Arthritis section by stating, ‘The fact is, there is no sure way to prevent arthritis.’
If you already have arthritis, they do offer a few specific examples of things you can do to manage it. For osteoarthritis, they recommend that you maintain a healthy weight; for rheumatoid arthritis that you do not smoke; and for gout, they advocate that you eat a healthful diet, low in sugar, alcohol and purines. They add the following at the end:
Right now, because scientists don’t fully understand the causes or mechanisms behind these diseases, true prevention seems to be impossible. However, there is real hope that someday some or all types of arthritis and related conditions can be prevented.
Gee whiz. Perhaps we simply haven’t given enough money to Western Arthritis Researchers to enable them to ‘understand’ what’s going on. Oh well–at least in the meantime, they have mountains of pharmaceutical drugs, enough for everyone, to fill the void of ignorance.
For arthritis sufferers, little of the ‘insights’ of Western medicine are truly helpful. The lack of clarity about the causes and effective treatments for arthritis is obviously frustrating. And when pharmaceutical drugs are the main line of treatment for arthritis sufferers—drugs which serve only to suppress the immune system and block some of the pain caused by arthritis, and do not offer the possibility of a cure—it is understandable that having arthritis could lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression.
Links Between Arthritis and Mental Health Issues
In fact, this lines up with a new study conducted by the Medibank Better Health Index that shows that Australians living with arthritis are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Medibank Chief Medical Officer Dr. Linda Swan further drills down on this as follows:
While arthritis is a physical health condition, we know it can also take a major toll on the mental wellbeing of those affected—with chronic pain, mobility loss and a reduced ability to take part in physical and social activities all playing potential roles. These findings confirm how essential it is that people with arthritis take measures to not only manage the physical symptoms of the condition, but also their mental health as well.
The first recommendation given by the study is for sufferers to ‘learn mindfulness and relaxation techniques.’ Certainly, the notion that we should have strategies to mitigate the mental health problems brought on by arthritis is a positive step; however, this still leaves us with a disease, arthritis, that is seen as fundamentally incurable and a constant pain we just have to live with.
An article entitled ‘Use Your Mind to Beat Arthritis’ goes a step further in suggesting that perhaps mind-centered techniques have the ability to actually alleviate some of the pain brought about by arthritis on their own. Here is the science they point to:
A recent Norwegian study followed 68 people with painful joint inflammation, half of whom participated in mindfulness training in a group setting. Over several months, they were able to reduce their emotional stress and improve overall well-being compared with the other half, who received routine medical care and simply followed along with a CD of mindfulness exercises at home.
Unfortunately, the article is very careful to present its claims in deference to Western medicine, disclaiming on several occasions that mind techniques are not substitutes for Western medication, and calling upon an MD for his authoritative take on it:
How does this “mind over matter” approach help arthritis? “If it works, we don’t understand why,” says Robert Shmerling, MD, a rheumatologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. But dissecting the mechanics may be unimportant if the end result is a better outlook on life. “It’s possible that anyone with chronic pain can be helped with some of these approaches,” Dr. Shmerling says. The only caveat is that they should not be used as a substitute for medication or other therapies, including those aimed at treating joint pain. “You can get joint damage and functional disability if you stop your medications,” he warns.
Again with the ‘we don’t understand why’ business. Why? Because Western medicine only concerns itself with physical processes, and so is disqualified from being an ‘authority’ on what the mind can do since they don’t even actually investigate the powers of the mind!
The article goes on to describe 4 different methods:
Meditation. Meditation helps you focus your attention, reduce stress, and improve feelings of well-being. There are different types of meditation to consider. In mindfulness meditation, you concentrate on your breathing (or another physical process) without reaction or judgment. With transcendental meditation, you repeat a mantra — a word or phrase — over and over to keep any thoughts from distracting you. A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that people with arthritis who underwent eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy that included meditation experienced a significant decrease in their pain intensity and achieved improved quality of life.
Relaxation techniques. Sometimes, taking steps to relieve the stress of arthritis can bring about positive physical changes, like decreased blood pressure and slower breathing, which in turn can lead to less discomfort from chronic joint pain. One technique, called progressive muscle relaxation, centers on purposely tightening and then relaxing each muscle group in your body while following a breathing technique. A study published in the International Journal of Nursing Practice found that a small group of people with rheumatoid arthritis who practiced relaxation techniques in addition to taking their medication had less anxiety and depression than those who only took medication.
Biofeedback. Biofeedback therapy involves the use of a simple machine that measures blood pressure, muscle tension, and other physical markers. By watching the measurements on the machine as you use various calming techniques, you can learn how to better control these physical functions. You can even shop for a biofeedback machine and books on the topic online.
Cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of psychotherapy helps you change negative thought and behavior patterns by replacing them with more positive behaviors. If your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are making you tired, this approach could be particularly helpful — two British studies found that group sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy reduced the impact of fatigue.
Belief Is The Key
After listing these 4 techniques, the article goes on to state that ‘the best therapy is one that you truly believe may help. Going into it with a lot of skepticism may reduce its effectiveness.’
Aha. There it is. Belief is the key. The problem is that this article, and Western medicine as a whole, do not provide us with a body of knowledge that would give us good reason to believe in the powers of the mind, and our innate abilities to heal ourselves. And why? Because if we really believed in our own ability to heal ourselves, the entire Western Medical Establishment would be out of business, save for a small area of health care dealing with acute traumas to the body.
For chronic illness, especially if we want to test the full effectiveness of mind-centered therapies, it becomes important to adopt a holistic paradigm of healing. A holistic approach sees the mind and body as one, intimately connected in the manifestation and perpetuation of chronic disease. Rather than being seen as an arbitrary event, diseases such as arthritis are actually manifested and maintained by the mind, the ultimate source of intelligence behind all of the body’s physiological processes. It follows that if we are willing to see chronic illness in the body as the manifestation of an improperly functioning mind, then it gives us a lot more confidence that we can heal ourselves through mind-centered practices such as the ones described above.
This does not negate the need for proper nutrition, rest, activity, or other physical processes; indeed in the holistic paradigm these are all part of the overall health of the organism, and would be included in any holistic treatment program for arthritis.
The unlimited power, though, is founded in the mind. To get really clear on the mind’s role in both the manifestation and healing of chronic illness within the body, books such as Bruce Lipton’s ‘The Biology of Belief’ or Louise Hay’s ‘You Can Heal Your Life,’ are excellent resources. Once you gain a full understanding of this paradigm, you will bring confidence and optimism to your experimentation with various mind-centered therapies, gaining more confidence and certainty in your ability to heal yourself with each sign of success.