Background: Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic, inflammatory rheumatic disease. Physiotherapy is considered an important part of the overall management of AS.
Objectives: To summarise the available scientific evidence on the effectiveness of physiotherapy interventions in the management of AS.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED, CINAHL and PEDro up to January 2007 for all relevant publications, without any language restrictions. We checked the reference lists of relevant articles and contacted the authors of included articles.
Selection criteria: We included randomised and quasi-randomised studies with AS patients and where at least one of the comparison groups received physiotherapy. The main outcomes of interest were pain, stiffness, spinal mobility, physical function and patient global assessment.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion, extracted data and assessed trial quality. Investigators were contacted to obtain missing information.
Main results: Eleven trials with a total of 763 participants were included in this updated review. Four trials compared individualised home exercise programs or a supervised exercise program with no intervention and reported low quality evidence for effects in spinal mobility (Relative percentage differences (RPDs) from 5-50%) and physical function (four points on a 33-point scale). Three trials compared supervised group physiotherapy with an individualised home-exercise program and reported moderate quality evidence for small differences in spinal mobility (RPDs 7.5-18%) and patient global assessment (1.46 cm) in favour of supervised group exercises. In one study, a three-week inpatient spa-exercise therapy followed by 37 weeks of weekly outpatient group physiotherapy (without spa) was compared with weekly outpatient group physiotherapy alone; there was moderate quality evidence for effects in pain (18%), physical function (24%) and patient global assessment (27%) in favour of the combined spa-exercise therapy. One study compared daily outpatient balneotherapy and an exercise program with only exercise program, and another study compared balneotherapy with fresh water therapy. None of these studies showed significant between-group differences. One study compared an experimental exercise program with a conventional program; statistically significant change scores were reported on nearly all spinal mobility measures and physical function in favour of the experimental program.
Authors' conclusions: The results of this review suggest that an individual home-based or supervised exercise program is better than no intervention; that supervised group physiotherapy is better than home exercises; and that combined inpatient spa-exercise therapy followed by group physiotherapy is better than group physiotherapy alone.