Background: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting the musculoskeletal system. Inflammation of the joints and tendons results in pain, swelling and restricted movement, eventually leading to radiological changes and deformities. Exercise therapy is considered to be an important cornerstone of the treatment of RA in all stages of the disease.
Objectives: To assess the effects of dynamic exercise therapy in improving joint mobility, muscle strength, aerobic capacity and daily functioning in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In addition, possible unwanted effects such as an increase in pain, disease activity and radiological progression were studied.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Musculoskeletal trials register, the Cochrane Controlled trials Register, MEDLINE, EMBASE and SCISEARCH databases up to May 1997 in order to controlled trials on the effect of exercise therapy.
Selection criteria: Randomized trials on the effect of dynamic exercise therapy in RA patients with an exercise program fulfilling the following criteria: a) intensity level such that heart rates exceeded 60% of maximal heart rate during at least 20 minutes, b) exercise frequency of two sessions per week, and c) duration of intervention of greater than six weeks
Data collection and analysis: Two blinded reviewers independently selected eligible studies, rated the methodological quality and extracted data.
Main results: Six out of 30 identified controlled trials met the inclusion criteria. Four of the six included studies fulfilled at least seven out of 10 methodological criteria. Due to heterogeneity in outcome measures, data could not be pooled. The results suggest that dynamic exercise therapy is effective at increasing aerobic capacity and muscle strength. No detrimental effects on disease activity and pain were observed. The effects of dynamic exercise therapy on functional ability and radiological progression are unclear.
Authors' conclusions: The results suggest that dynamic exercise therapy is effective at increasing aerobic capacity and muscle strength. No detrimental effects on disease activity and pain were observed. The effects of dynamic exercise therapy on functional ability and radiological progression are unclear. Dynamic exercise therapy has a positive effect on physical capacity. Research on the long-term effect of dynamic exercise therapy on radiological progression and functional ability is needed.