Psychological interventions for rheumatoid arthritis: Examining the role of self-regulation with a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials




To examine the efficacy of psychological interventions for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and to determine whether self-regulation interventions demonstrate efficacy superior to that of other psychological treatments.


Only randomized controlled trials testing a face-to-face psychological intervention among patients with RA were included. Two independent investigators extracted pertinent study data, rated each study on a scale of methodologic quality, and assessed each treatment condition for its inclusion of 5 behavior-change techniques derived from self-regulation theory (goal setting, planning, self-monitoring, feedback, and relapse prevention).


Twenty-seven trials were included, and cumulative effect sizes were calculated for the 5 outcomes. Significant effect sizes (Hedges' g) were found at posttreatment for physical activity (0.45), pain (0.18), disability (0.32), depressive symptoms (0.23), and anxiety (0.17). At followup (range 2–14 months), significant effect sizes were obtained for physical activity (0.36), pain (0.13), disability (0.15), and depressive symptoms (0.32). Comparative analyses revealed that interventions utilizing more self-regulation techniques reduced depressive symptoms and anxiety significantly more than interventions utilizing fewer such techniques. Additionally, depressive symptoms were reduced significantly more among recently diagnosed RA patients than among those with longstanding RA.


Psychological interventions are beneficial for many patients with RA, particularly when it comes to increasing physical activity levels. Intervention techniques derived from self-regulation theory appear to play a role in reducing depressive symptoms and anxiety among patients with RA.