A recent Cochrane Systematic Review has concluded that exercise programs designed to improve strength and stamina are safe and effective treatments for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Researchers found moderate benefits associated with this type of treatment after reviewing dynamic exercise program trials in RA patients.

Lead researcher Emalie Hurkmans of the Leiden University Medical Centre in Leiden, Netherlands, said, ‘Based on the evidence in this study, we would recommend aerobic capacity training combined with muscle strength training as routine practice for RA patients. But we need more research to establish the recommended length and type of exercise programs, whether patients need to be supervised and if these programs are cost effective’.

RA causes chronic pain and inflammation of the joints and affects up to 1 per cent of the Westernised world’s population. In absence of any known cure for the disease, dynamic exercise programs are often recommended to complement drug therapy in a bid to improve physical function.

Data was combined from eight trials involving a total of 575 patients. The results reaffirm the findings of the original study; that dynamic exercise programs are safe and have positive effects on aerobic capacity and muscle strength in RA patients, and when performed long term also have a positive effect on functional ability. The researchers did note, however, that the benefits were only seen immediately after the intervention. They also suggest water-based programs may help to improve functional ability of patients.

Noting the lack of data gathered in relation to length of exercise program needed to maintain the beneficial effects, Hurkmans said, ‘One important omission from this study is evidence for long term follow-up effects, so without further studies we can’t rule out that the obtained effects vanish if exercise programs are not continued over long periods. There are also other types of exercise that weren’t included in our review, such as flexibility and stability training, and it would be interesting to find out whether these also have positive effects’.

Source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews