Background: Physical therapy is recommended for the management of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) and flexibility exercises have traditionally been the main focus. Cardiovascular (CV) diseases are considered as a major health concern in axSpA and there is strong evidence that endurance and strength exercise protects against CV diseases. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the efficacy of high intensity endurance and strength exercise on disease activity and CV health in patients with active axSpA.
Methods: In a single blinded randomized controlled pilot study the exercise group (EG) performed 12 weeks of endurance and strength exercise while the control group (CG) received treatment as usual. The primary outcome was the Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) Disease Activity Score (ASDAS). Secondary outcomes included patient reported disease activity (Bath AS Disease Activity Index [BASDAI]), physical function (Bath AS Functional Index [BASFI]), and CV risk factors measured by arterial stiffness (Augmentation Index [Alx]) and Pulse Wave Velocity [PWV]), cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2 peak) and body composition. ANCOVA on the post intervention values with baseline values as covariates was used to assess group differences, and Mann Whitney U-test was used for outcomes with skewed residuals.
Results: Twenty-eight patients were included and 24 (EG, n = 10, CG, n = 14) completed the study. A mean treatment effect of -0.7 (95%CI: -1.4, 0.1) was seen in ASDAS score. Treatment effects were also observed in secondary outcomes (mean group difference [95%CI]): BASDAI: -2.0 (-3.6, -0.4), BASFI: -1.4 (-2.6, -0.3), arterial stiffness (estimated median group differences [95% CI]): AIx (%): -5.3 (-11.0, -0.5), and for PVW (m/s): -0.3 (-0.7, 0.0), VO2 peak (ml/kg/min) (mean group difference [95%CI]: 3.7 (2.1, 5.2) and trunk fat (%): -1.8 (-3.0, -0.6). No adverse events occurred.
Conclusion: High intensity exercise improved disease activity and reduced CV risk factors in patients with active axSpA. These effects will be further explored in a larger trial.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01436942.