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Posted in 20 by Amelia Grant

What to Know About Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Osteoarthritis


What to Know About Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Osteoarthritis

Seeing a therapist for your osteoarthritis (OA) is probably not that surprising—at least, not if it's a physical or occupational therapist. But what about consulting a therapist? Isn't that strange? Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that has been shown to help people with arthritis pain. CBT is also recommended by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the Arthritis Foundation in their newest guidelines for arthritis care. Here's how it works in greater detail.

There's Evidence That CBT May Ease Chronic Pain

While there isn't much study on CBT and OA specifically, there is lots of evidence that it can help people with chronic pain, therefore it's likely to aid those with OA. CBT was found to be beneficial in helping those with fibromyalgia cope with their pain in a systematic review published in 2017. CBT is a highly successful, short-term treatment. Pain, health-related quality of life, bad mood, exhaustion, functional capacity, and disability have all been proven to improve with it.

CBT Is About Retraining Your Brain

So, how does cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) work? It's actually quite straightforward. Imagine a triangle in your mind. Let one corner of the triangle represent our thoughts, one corner represent our emotions, and one corner represent our behaviors—all of which impact one another. CBT is based on the premise that if our ideas aren't accurate or useful in some manner, we can modify our moods and behaviors by changing our thoughts. CBT's cognitive component involves modifying your thoughts, which can have an impact on your moods and behaviors.

CBT Can Make Your Pain Feel Less Painful

OA is the breakdown of joint tissue, and your doctor can only prescribe so many medications or surgeries to help with the pain in your knees, hands, and other joints at a certain point. However, how we respond to suffering is something we have control over.


To address this in CBT, your therapist may work with you to restructure your thinking about pain so that you may stop feeling helpless and catastrophizing about your symptoms and replace them with healthier, more reasonable ones that will help you deal.

You'll Learn Practical Tips to Minimize Pain

Your therapist will most likely teach you coping skills to help you deal with your discomfort. There will also be things to try at home, so there will be homework! This could involve activities such as activity-rest cycling. When you have OA, the best thing you can do for yourself is move. Physical activity can lead to increased mobility and pain relief. However, learning to pace yourself and incorporating rest periods into your activity is an important skill that you may acquire in CBT to help you manage your pain.

CBT Can Help You Distract and Relax

Distraction tactics, such as imaging and relaxation exercises, including muscle relaxation, are among the other coping skills you can develop, according to a 2017 study. Learning to detect early pain triggers and altering your behavior accordingly—perhaps by employing some of these distraction techniques—is another part of the healthy coping skills you might acquire in CBT.


If behavioral changes are possible, the behavioral component of CBT is starting small, improving abilities, attempting new behaviors, and gradually increasing—this is frequently the weekly homework with CBT.

Mindfulness May Play a Role

Some CBT therapists use mindfulness in their treatments, which may be beneficial for persons with OA who want to improve their pain management. Mindfulness is the practice of embracing and nonjudgmental awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodies, and surroundings.


Mindfulness can take many forms, including meditation and yoga, but it can also be as simple as breathing exercises. Mindfulness—and becoming nonjudgmentally aware of the pain—can help to minimize the subjective experiences of pain.


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Amelia Grant

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