Spirituality and Arthritis Outcomes
Studies show that 90 percent of Americans believe in God, and many consider faith and spirituality an important aspect of well-being. Indeed, many people trust in their spiritual beliefs to cope with health challenges. A few studies have even shown that faith is associated with better health outcomes.
What Problem Was Studied?
A team of scientists from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD – including Arthritis Foundation-funded researcher Steffany Haaz, MFA – and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, set out to discover the
frequency of spiritual experiences in older adults with chronic health conditions. Furthermore, they sought to determine the relationships between spirituality and social factors, demographic factors, pain, health and mood. The research team hypothesized that women, African Americans and people with arthritis would report more frequent spiritual experiences and improved health perceptions, less pain and less depression.
What Was Done in the Study?
Questionnaires were sent to patients of a large primary care physician office in Baltimore, MD. To be eligible, patients had to be at least 50 years old, have at least one chronic medical condition and answered “yes” to the question, “Have you felt more nervous or stressed in the last month?” The questionnaire included basic questions about social, demographic and health histories. More specific to this research, the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES) was used to assess how often participants experienced common spiritual feelings and a sense of inner peace. To test for health-related outcomes, participants were also asked questions about energy, fatigue, pain, mood and perceptions of their overall health.
What Were the Study Results?
A total of 99 people completed the survey; 62 percent were women, half were African American and 54 percent had arthritis. The most common types of spiritual experiences reported were thankfulness, being touched by beauty, a desire to be closer to God and accepting others. African American women reported the most frequent DSEs and white men reported the fewest. Higher numbers of coexisting medical conditions were associated with more frequent spiritual experiences.
When relating spiritual experiences to health, the research team found that higher pain scores were modestly associated with more frequent DSEs and that frequent DSEs related to lower depression scores. Due to the design of the study, no cause-and-effect relationship could be inferred from the data. The research team couldn’t tell, for example, whether less depressed people prayed more or if people who prayed more were less depressed.
Participants with arthritis reported significantly more frequent DSEs than participants without arthritis. Compared to those without arthritis, participants with arthritis were more likely to find strength and comfort in their religion, trust or rely on God or another spiritual source, accept help from a higher power and feel close to God.
What Does This Mean for People With Arthritis?
The study authors conclude, “This study and others have found that spirituality is an important and effective approach that many patients may use to cope with their pain.” They urge patients and clinicians to embark on discussions of spirituality and to explore, when appropriate for the individuals, the potential therapeutic benefit of using spirituality based strategies to help with day-to-day coping of health challenges.
This research was supported by a grant to lead study author Jeanne McCauley, MD, MPH, from the Foundation for Spirituality and Medicine. The Arthritis Foundation grant to Steffany Haaz is for a project involving yoga for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
McCauley J, Tarpley MJ, Haaz S, Bartlett SJ. Daily spiritual experiences of older adults with and without arthritis and the relationship to health outcomes. Arthritis Care Res 2008;59:122-8.
Download the PDF of this issue
Back to contents page