Objective: To determine whether there is sufficient evidence to conclude that exercise interventions are more effective than no exercise control and to compare the effectiveness of different exercise interventions in relieving pain and improving function in patients with lower limb osteoarthritis.
Data sources: Nine electronic databases searched from inception to March 2012.
Study selection: Randomised controlled trials comparing exercise interventions with each other or with no exercise control for adults with knee or hip osteoarthritis.
Data extraction: Two reviewers evaluated eligibility and methodological quality. Main outcomes extracted were pain intensity and limitation of function. Trial sequential analysis was used to investigate reliability and conclusiveness of available evidence for exercise interventions. Bayesian network meta-analysis was used to combine both direct (within trial) and indirect (between trial) evidence on treatment effectiveness.
Results: 60 trials (44 knee, two hip, 14 mixed) covering 12 exercise interventions and with 8218 patients met inclusion criteria. Sequential analysis showed that as of 2002 sufficient evidence had been accrued to show significant benefit of exercise interventions over no exercise control. For pain relief, strengthening, flexibility plus strengthening, flexibility plus strengthening plus aerobic, aquatic strengthening, and aquatic strengthening plus flexibility, exercises were significantly more effective than no exercise control. A combined intervention of strengthening, flexibility, and aerobic exercise was also significantly more effective than no exercise control for improving limitation in function (standardised mean difference -0.63, 95% credible interval -1.16 to -0.10).
Conclusions: As of 2002 sufficient evidence had accumulated to show significant benefit of exercise over no exercise in patients with osteoarthritis, and further trials are unlikely to overturn this result. An approach combining exercises to increase strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity is likely to be most effective in the management of lower limb osteoarthritis. The evidence is largely from trials in patients with knee osteoarthritis.
Protocol registration: PROSPERO (www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/) No CRD42012002267.