Purpose: Many patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) report dyspnea and fatigue when performing upper limb activities. Unsupported upper limb training has been shown to improve upper limb endurance, but its effects on symptoms and quality of life have not been examined. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of upper limb and lower limb training with lower limb training alone on exercise capacity, symptoms, and quality of life with COPD.
Methods: For this study, 38 patients with moderate to severe COPD were randomly allocated to unsupported upper limb endurance training or to a control group that completed a sham training task. All the patients underwent lower limb endurance training. The 6-minute walk test, the Incremental Unsupported Upper Limb Exercise Test, and the Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire (CRQ) were completed before training and then 6 weeks afterward. Both patients and assessors were blinded to group allocation.
Results: All the patients reported symptoms associated with upper limb activities on the initial CRQ. Both groups showed significant improvements in all domains of the CRQ and in the 6-minute walk test after training. Only the upper limb training group showed improvement in upper limb endurance time (57 +/- 75 vs 2 +/- 58 seconds; P = .02). There were no significant differences between the groups for 6-minute walk test or any domain of the CRQ.
Conclusions: Unsupported upper limb training for patients COPD improves upper limb exercise capacity, but has no additional effect on symptoms or quality of life, as compared with leg training alone. This type of upper limb training may not adequately address the complex interaction between respiratory mechanics and upper limb function.