Purpose: To study the effects of adding supervised group physical therapy to unsupervised individualized therapy in ankylosing spondylitis.
Methods: One hundred forty-four patients were randomized to exercises at home, or the same plus weekly group physical therapy for 9 months. Endpoints were spinal mobility, fitness (maximum work capacity by ergometry), functioning (Sickness Impact Profile, Health Assessment Questionnaire for the Spondylarthropathies, and Functional Index), and patient's global assessment of change on a 10-cm visual analogue scale.
Results: Thoracolumbar flexion and extension increased by an average of 0.5 cm (9%) after home exercises, and by 0.9 cm (16%) after group therapy. Maximum load in ergometry decreased by 2 W (1%) after home exercises, but increased by 7 W (4%) after group therapy. Global assessment improved by 0.3 (6%) after home exercises, and by 1.7 (34%) after group therapy. These three differences were statistically significant. There were no significant differences in chest expansion, cervical rotation, or the self-assessments of functioning.
Conclusions: Group physical therapy proved superior to individualized therapy in improving thoracolumbar mobility and fitness, and had an important effect on global health reported by the patients.