Objective: Due to reduced physical activity, adults with arthritis experience significant disability and comorbidities including cardiovascular disease. This meta-analytic review integrates results from primary research studies testing interventions to increase physical activity in arthritis patients.
Methods: Extensive literature searching strategies were employed to locate published and unpublished empirical studies testing physical activity interventions. Results were coded for studies that had at least 5 participants. Effect sizes (ESs) were calculated for measures of physical activity, pain, and objective and subjective measures of functional ability.
Results: Twenty-eight research studies with 4111 subjects were synthesized. The mean ES for 2-group comparisons (treatment versus control) was 0.69 for physical activity, 0.21 for pain, 0.49 for objectively measured function, and 0.14 for subjectively measured function. This average effect on subjective function is consistent with a Health Assessment Questionnaire mean of 0.64 for treatment subjects as compared with 0.70 for control subjects. For pain assessed using the 0 to 10 visual analog scale, the average effect amounts to a mean of 3.78 for treatment subjects versus 4.33 for control subjects. Control group subjects experienced statistically significant improvements in pain and, to a lesser extent, objectively measured functional ability during study participation.
Conclusions: Physical activity interventions resulted in moderate positive effects on physical activity behavior and small positive effects on pain and physical function outcomes. Future research should examine specific intervention characteristics that result in optimal results, such as frequency, type, and intensity of exercise.