Background: Exercise therapy is considered an important component of the treatment of arthritis. The efficacy of exercise therapy has been reviewed in adults with rheumatoid arthritis but not in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
Objectives: To assess the effects of exercise therapy on functional ability, quality of life and aerobic capacity in children with JIA.
Methods: Several electronic databases were searched up to October 2007 and references were tracked. The selection criteria were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of exercise treatment in JIA. As for data collection and analysis, potentially relevant references were evaluated and all data were extracted by two review authors working independently.
Results: Three out of 16 identified studies met the inclusion criteria, with a total of 212 participants. All the included studies fulfilled at least seven of 10 methodological criteria. The outcome data of the following measures were homogenous and were pooled in a meta-analysis: functional ability (N=198; weighted mean difference [WMD] -0.07, 95% CI -0.22 to 0.08), quality of life (CHQ-PhS: N=115; WMD -3.96, 95% CI -8.91 to 1.00) and aerobic capacity (N=124; WMD 0.04, 95% CI -0.11 to 0.19). The results suggest that the outcome measures all favoured the exercise therapy but none were statistically significant. None of the studies reported negative effects of the exercise therapy.
Conclusions: Overall, based on ''silver-level'' evidence there was no clinically important or statistically significant evidence that exercise therapy can improve functional ability, quality of life, aerobic capacity or pain. The included and excluded studies were all consistent about the adverse effects of exercise therapy; no short-term detrimental effects of exercise therapy were found in any study. Both included and excluded studies showed that exercise does not exacerbate arthritis. Although the short-term effects look promising, the long-term effect of exercise therapy remains unclear.