Strength training alone, exercise therapy alone, and exercise therapy with passive manual mobilisation each reduce pain and disability in people with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review

J Physiother. 2011;57(1):11-20. doi: 10.1016/S1836-9553(11)70002-9.


Question: What are the effects of strength training alone, exercise therapy alone, and exercise with additional passive manual mobilisation on pain and function in people with knee osteoarthritis compared to control? What are the effects of these interventions relative to each other?

Design: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.

Participants: Adults with osteoarthritis of the knee. INTERVENTION TYPES: Strength training alone, exercise therapy alone (combination of strength training with active range of motion exercises and aerobic activity), or exercise with additional passive manual mobilisation, versus any non-exercise control. Comparisons between the three interventions were also sought.

Outcome measures: The primary outcome measures were pain and physical function.

Results: 12 trials compared one of the interventions against control. The effect size on pain was 0.38 (95% CI 0.23 to 0.54) for strength training, 0.34 (95% CI 0.19 to 0.49) for exercise, and 0.69 (95% CI 0.42 to 0.96) for exercise plus manual mobilisation. Each intervention also improved physical function significantly. No randomised comparisons of the three interventions were identified. However, meta-regression indicated that exercise plus manual mobilisations improved pain significantly more than exercise alone (p = 0.03). The remaining comparisons between the three interventions for pain and physical function were not significant.

Conclusion: Exercise therapy plus manual mobilisation showed a moderate effect size on pain compared to the small effect sizes for strength training or exercise therapy alone. To achieve better pain relief in patients with knee osteoarthritis physiotherapists or manual therapists might consider adding manual mobilisation to optimise supervised active exercise programs.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Disability Evaluation
  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / rehabilitation*
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Range of Motion, Articular*
  • Resistance Training / methods*