Objective: Some reports suggest that education programs help arthritis patients better manage their symptoms and improve function. This review of the published literature was undertaken to assess the effect of such programs on pain and disability.
Methods: Medline and HealthSTAR were searched for the period 1964-1998. The references of each article were then hand-searched for further publications. Studies were included in the meta-analysis if the intervention contained a self-management education component, a concurrent control group was included, and pain and/or disability were assessed as end points. Two authors reviewed each study. The methodologic attributes and efficacy of the interventions were assessed using a standardized abstraction tool, and the magnitude of the results was converted to a common measure, the effect size. Summary effect sizes were calculated separately for pain and disability.
Results: The search strategy yielded 35 studies, of which 17 met inclusion criteria. The mean age of study participants was 61 years, and 69% were female. On average, 19% of patients did not complete followup (range 0-53%). The summary effect size was 0.12 for pain (95% confidence interval [95% CI] 0.00, 0.24) and 0.07 for disability (95% CI 0.00, 0.15). Funnel plots indicated no significant evidence of bias toward the publication of studies with findings that showed reductions in pain or disability.
Conclusion: The summary effect sizes suggest that arthritis self-management education programs result in small reductions in pain and disability.