Objective: Compare unsupported (UAEx) vs supported (SAEx) arm exercise in training of patients with severe chronic airflow obstruction (CAO).
Design: Randomized trial of UAEx vs SAEx training added to a 10-week outpatient program of lower extremity (LE) exercise training, respiratory muscle training, breathing retraining, psychological support, and teaching.
Setting: The Lahey Clinic Medical Center, a tertiary referral center.
Patients: Forty patients with CAO entered the rehabilitation program with 32 completing training and testing.
Interventions: All underwent progressive bicycle ergometer and treadmill training and respiratory muscle training using a threshold inspiratory pressure trainer. Patients were randomized to progressive SAEx training (arm cycle ergometer, n = 17) or UAEx training (raising weighted dowel, n = 18).
Main outcome measures and results: There was no significant difference in disease severity or exercise capacity between the two groups. Twelve-min walk test, bicycle ergometer power output, and respiratory muscle function improved with no significant difference in improvement between the two groups. Both groups showed similar improvements in arm ergometer testing while those trained with UAEx showed greater improvement in dowel testing (UAEx > SAEx, p = 0.002). In 17 patients VO2isotime (time at which patient performed pre-training and post-training tests) was measured during dowel testing. Only those trained with UAEx showed decreases in VO2isotime (UAEx trained, p = 0.02; SAEx, p = 0.18). VO2 during the last minute of a 2-min period of simple arm elevation was also measured in 17 patients. Only those trained with UAEx showed decreases in VO2 (UAEx, p = 0.02; SAEx, p = 0.20).
Conclusion: We confirm that a pulmonary rehabilitation program incorporating exercise training improves LE and respiratory muscle function. Arm exercise training improved arm activity with greater increases in unsupported arm activity seen in those trained with unsupported arm training. Metabolic cost of UAEx decreased only in those trained with UAEx. As UAEx is typical of activities of daily living in patients with CAO, the changes seen with UAEx training may be of greater clinical significance. Arm training should be incorporated in exercise training and a simple program of UAEx appears the optimal format.