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According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, nearly half of Australians of all ages (46.6%) had one or more chronic condition, and almost one in five (18.6%) had two or more.

Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, and psychological issues like depression and anxiety rank among the top chronic conditions in Australia and osteoarthritis often coexists with depression, While medications such as NSAIDs can relieve pain, they do have side effects, and nonpharmacological approaches can help patients.

In a new systematic review, researchers from the University of New South Wales dug into the best non-pharmacological methods to ease both pain and depression in those with osteoarthritis.

The review captured randomised clinical trials where non-pharmacological treatments for osteoarthritis had been tested – things like exercise, lifestyle education, yoga, resistance training, therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy, and “multi-modal” treatments which combined various elements of these programs. These trials studied the effect of such interventions on pain and depression in people living with osteoarthritis. The typical person in one of these trials was in their mid-60s and they were mostly female.

The researchers split their findings in two – treatments for pain, and then treatments for depression. 23 different studies showed non-pharma treatments reduced pain, with “movement meditation” exercises (yoga or tai chi) and resistance training  showing benefit. Movement meditation and mixed approaches also had significant benefits on depression.

The authors suggest these findings support treatments for osteoarthritis targeting mind and body which are more effective than exercise or therapy alone. They say this could be especially useful for people with dementia, many of whom experience pain linked to osteoarthritis and where the interventions studied might have multiple benefits.


Further information

Nonpharmacological approaches for pain and symptoms of depression in people with osteoarthritis: systematic review and meta-analyses: Nature

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