The effect of physical exercise on rheumatoid arthritis: An overview of systematic reviews and meta-analysis

J Adv Nurs. 2020 Nov 11. doi: 10.1111/jan.14574. Online ahead of print.


Aims: To determine which outcomes will be improved by different exercise interventions and the evidence quality for each intervention.

Design: Overview of systematic reviews and meta-analysis.

Data sources: PubMed, Cochrane, Web of Science, CINAHL, and Embase. Published from the establishment of the database to 3 September 2019.

Review methods: AMSTAR 2 and PRISMA were used to evaluate methodological and reporting quality. Evidence quality of the effect of each intervention was assessed according to GRADE guidelines. Meta-analysis of original studies was conducted for comparison of systematic reviews and to explore the effect of different exercise interventions on the same outcome.

Results: Ten systematic reviews were included in the overview. A significant improvement was seen in: aerobic exercise for aerobic capacity; strength training for erythrocyte sedimentation rate and 50-foot walking time; aerobic exercise combined with strength training for aerobic capacity, physical function, and fatigue; hand exercise for hand function.

Conclusions: For the maximum benefit of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, different exercise methods should be selected according to the symptoms. For RA patients, any exercise is better than no exercise, but the intensity, frequency, and period of exercise for better results are not determined.

Impact: What problem did the study address is which outcomes will be improved by different exercise interventions. For maximum benefit for RA patients, different exercise methods should be selected according to symptoms. The research summarized the evidence of exercise rehabilitation of RA and will help RA patients or their caregivers choose the appropriate type of exercise, which will play a positive role on the rehabilitation of patients with RA.

Keywords: aerobic capacity; exercise; nursing; overview of systematic reviews; pain; physical function; rheumatoid arthritis.

Publication types

  • Review