Can what you think affect how you feel -- even if you have a sometimes-painful condition like arthritis? If you're skeptical about this idea, researchers at Stanford University Medical Center have a photo -- of someone chomping into a juicy lemon -- to show you. After you pucker, they bet you'll be more open to the idea of using mind/body connections to ease discomfort. That's one strategy they are teaching in the free Self-Management @ Stanford -- Healthier Living With Arthritis study, underway and still recruiting participants.

Through online workshops conducted a few times a week for six weeks, researchers offer thought strategies -- as well as nutrition and sleep strategies -- to improve the lives of arthritis patients.

"We're trying to make life easier with this disease," said Stanford professor of medicine Kate Lorig, the study's principal investigator. "You're not going to get rid of it. How do you get on with life?"

One way, say researchers in the National Institutes of Health-sponsored study, is by using thought strategies that distract you from negative thoughts and improve your outlook. For example, if you find climbing stairs painful, try thinking of a word for every letter of the alphabet as you go. Researchers say the trick can take your mind off the pain.

Study participants access other strategies through the Web page http://arthritis.stanford.edu, where study information is also available for the public. Participants are asked to visit the site at least twice a week and take part in online discussions with group members and moderators. They also are expected to complete five online surveys, meant to gauge the workshops' impact on quality of life, every six months for about two years.

Nearly four months into the study, Lorig says she has about 250 participants and wants some 400 more. Applicants must be United States residents at least 18 years old who have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia. Documentation of a doctor's diagnosis is required. Participants, who need access to the Internet, should also be proficient online -- meaning they use e-mail and know, for example, how to order a book online, said study coordinator Katy Matthews. To learn more, call 800-366-2624, e-mail arthritis@med.stanford.edu or visit http://arthritis.stanford.edu.

To learn more about local in-person groups, which inspired the online groups and are sponsored by the Washington Metropolitan Chapter of the National Arthritis Foundation, call 202-537-6800.

-- Samantha Ganey

If this image can make you pucker, can thoughts reduce pain?