Background: Ultrasound is often used, by rehabilitation specialists, as an adjunct therapy for the symptomatic treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Its mechanical energy has antiinflammatory as well as analgesic properties.
Objectives: To evaluate the effects of ultrasound on objective and subjective measures of disease activity in patients with RA.
Search strategy: A comprehensive search was conducted up to September 2001 with MEDLINE, EMBASE, PEDro, Current Contents, Sports Discus and CINAHL. The Cochrane Field of Rehabilitation and Related Therapies and the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group specialized registers were also searched. Handsearching was conducted on all retrieved papers and content experts were contacted to identify additional studies.
Selection criteria: Comparative controlled studies, such as randomized controlled trials and clinical controlled trials in patients with RA were eligible. No language restrictions were applied. Abstracts were accepted.
Data collection and analysis: Two independent reviewers identified potential articles from the literature search. These reviewers extracted data using pre-defined extraction forms. Consensus was reached on all the extracted data. Quality was assessed by two reviewers using a 5 point validated assessment tool that measures the quality of randomization, double-blinding and description of withdrawals.
Main results: Two studies (n=80 participants) met the inclusion criteria. Ultrasound to the palmar and dorsal aspect of the hand significantly increases grip strength when compared to a control (weighted mean difference (WMD) 28.07, 95CI: 13.37 to 42.77). Ultrasound to the palmar and dorsal aspects of the hand also appears to have beneficial effects to the following outcome measures: wrist dorsal flexion (WMD 1.90, 95%CI: 0.64 to 3.16), duration of morning stiffness (WMD 28.54, 95%CI: 0.18 to 56.90), number of swollen joints (WMD 1.02, 95%CI: 0.45 to 1.59) and the number of painful joints (WMD 1.20, 95%CI: 0.45 to 1.95). There is no significant difference between a)exercises and wax, b)exercises with ultrasound, c)exercises with ultrasound and faradic hand baths for the following outcome measures: pain score, grip strength, circumference of proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints, articular index, range of motion or level of activity.
Reviewer's conclusions: The reviewers concluded that ultrasound in combination with the following treatment modalities; exercises, faradic current and wax baths, is not supported and cannot be recommended. Ultrasound alone can however, be used on the hand to increase grip strength, and to a lesser extent, based on the borderline results, increase wrist dorsal flexion, decrease morning stiffness, reduce the number of swollen joints and reduce the number of painful joints. It is important to note that these conclusions are limited by the methodological considerations such as poor quality of the trials, the low number of clinical trials, and the small sample size of the included studies.