Objective: To investigate the effects of an 8-week, 24-session weight-bearing physical conditioning program on disease signs and symptoms in children with chronic arthritis.
Methods: In a within-subjects, repeated measures design, 25 subjects, ages 8-17 years, with chronic polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), were assessed at study entry, after an 8-week control period, and after an 8-week exercise period, for 1) disease status, based on joint count (JC) and articular severity index (ASI) (sum of scores for joint swelling, pain on motion, tenderness, and limitations of motion); 2) worst pain during the past week, using a 10-cm visual analog scale (VAS), and 3) aerobic endurance, using the 9-minute run-walk test of the Health Related Physical Fitness Test battery. The 60-minute conditioning program included warm-up (10 minutes), low-impact aerobics (25 minutes), strengthening (15 minutes), and cool-down and flexibility exercises (10 minutes). Subjects exercised twice a week at their rheumatology center and once a week at home, using a commercial exercise video-tape supplied by the investigator.
Results: Significant improvement was found in the ASI (Friedman analysis of variance [ANOVA]), JC, and 9-minute run-walk test (repeated measures ANOVA) from the pre- to post-exercise tests. Mean VAS pain scores decreased 16% from study entry to the post-exercise test. Statistically significant improvement (reliable change index > 1.96) occurred in 80% of subjects on the ASI and 72% on the JC.
Conclusion: Children and adolescents with chronic polyarticular JRA can improve their aerobic endurance through participation in weight-bearing physical conditioning programs without disease exacerbation or increased pain, and may achieve decreased joint signs and symptoms through increased physical activity.