Physiotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis: development of a practice guideline

Acta Reumatol Port. 2011 Apr-Jun;36(2):146-58.


Background: To improve the quality of the physiotherapy management in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) a Dutch practice guideline, based on current scientific evidence and best practice, was developed. This guideline comprised all elements of a structured approach (assessment, treatment and evaluation) and was based on the Internatio-nal Classification of Functioning, disability and Health (ICF) and the ICF core sets for RA.

Methods: A guideline steering committee, comprising 10 expert physiotherapists, selected topics concerning the guideline chapters initial assessment, treatment and evaluation. With respect to treatment a systematic literature search was performed using various databases, and the evidence was graded (1-4). For the initial assessment and evaluation mainly review papers and textbooks were used. Based on evidence and expert opinion, recommendations were formulated. A first draft of the guideline was reviewed by 10 experts from different professional backgrounds resulting in the final guideline.

Results: In total 7 topics were selected. For the initial assessment, three recommendations were made. Based on the ICF core sets for RA a list of health problems relevant for the physiotherapist was made and completed with red flags and points of attention. Concerning treatment, three recommendations were formulated; both exercise therapy and education on physiotherapy were recommended, whereas passive interventions (delivery of heat or cold, mechanical, electric and electromagnetic energy, massage, passive mobilization/manipulation and balneotherapy) were neither recommended nor discouraged. For treatment evaluation at the level of activities and participation, the Health Assessment Questionnaire was recommended. For evaluating specific body structures and functions the handheld dynamometer, 6-minute walk test or Ă„strand bicycle test (including Borg-scale for rating the perceived exertion), Escola Paulista de Medicina Range of Motion Scale and a Visual Analog Scale for pain and morning stiffness were recommended.

Conclusion: This physiotherapy practice guideline for RA included seven recommendations on the initial assessment, treatment and evaluation, which were all based on the ICF and the ICF Core Set for RA. The implementation of the guideline in clinical practice needs further evaluation.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*