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08-08-2011 | Article

Aerobic exercise may be effective for rheumatoid arthritis management


Free abstract

MedWire News: Results from a systematic review update indicate that undertaking aerobic exercise reduces pain symptoms and increases small-joint sparing in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Such patients also appear to experience a significant improvement in quality of life and level of disability when they do aerobic exercise, say the authors.

The findings arise from a 14-study systematic review involving 1040 patients with a 1-16 year history of RA, aged 44-68 years. Patients were randomly allocated to either regular aerobic exercise sessions over a period of 2-102 weeks, or a non-aerobic intervention (controls).

Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Jennie Scarvell (Canberra Hospital, Woden, Australian Capital Territory) and Mark Elkins (University of Sydney) report that aerobic exercise was associated with a significant reduction in pain, with a standardized mean difference (SMD) of 0.31 compared with no aerobic exercise.

Radiographically detected small-joint sparing was significantly greater among patients undergoing aerobic exercise than among controls, with a SMD of 0.36. Quality of life and disability were self-reported to be at more desirable levels among aerobic exercise patients than in the control group, with respective SMDs of 0.39 and 0.24.

The researchers observe that "compliance with scheduled exercise sessions may have been a more sensitive measure than programme completions, but unfortunately this was not reported in the trials."

But they stress: "Even allowing for some error due to the limitations of the review, the average effect of aerobic exercise on quality of life appears to be quite substantial and very unlikely to be due to chance."

The team concludes: "This systematic review supports a more frequent recommendation of exercise to people with RA."

By Lauretta Ihonor