Objective: To evaluate the short term efficacy of a community based physical therapy (PT) program for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) through a single blind randomized controlled trial.
Methods: Adults with active RA were referred by their physician for community based PT. Participants were randomized to either an immediate intervention group [experimental group (EG)] or a wait list control group (CG). The intervention was a standardized program of education and exercise consisting of at least 4 visits or 3 h of PT over 6 weeks. Baseline, 6, and 12 week assessments were by a blinded independent assessor. The primary outcome instrument was the Stanford Arthritis Self-Efficacy Scale (SES) and secondary outcome measures included the ACREU Rheumatoid Arthritis Knowledge Questionnaire (KQ) and visual analog scale for pain (VAS). Duration of morning stiffness, grip strength, and tender joint count were also collected at each assessment. Outcome analysis was conducted using analysis of variance.
Results: Of 150 eligible and randomized participants, 127 completed the study according to protocol. Baseline analysis showed no differences between the EG and CG for demographics, disease status, or other characteristics. At the 6 week assessment, primary outcome analysis for those who completed the protocol identified a mean change (improvement) of 13.5% in the EG and 5.8% in the CG, representing a 7.7% difference in change scores between the 2 groups [F(1,121) = 6.03; p = 0.015]. A statistically significant difference in change scores was also identified for the KQ [F(1,120) = 6.67; p = 0.011], but not for the VAS. Disease status measures did not change, except for duration of morning stiffness, which improved by 68.8 min in the EG and 8.3 min in the CG (F(1,121) = 4.50; p = 0.036].
Conclusion: Four hours of a community based PT intervention delivered over 6 weeks significantly improved self-efficacy, disease management knowledge and morning stiffness in people with RA.