Osteoarthritis year in review: outcome of rehabilitation

The authors wrote this review to highlight seminal publications of rehabilitation interventions for osteoarthritis (OA) since April 2012. Medline in process, Embase, CINAHL and Cochrane databases were searched from April 2012 through February 2013 for English language publications using key words osteoarthritis, rehabilitation, physiotherapy, physical therapy, and exercise. Rehabilitation intervention studies included randomized trials or systematic reviews/meta-analyses or pre-post studies. Pilot randomized trials, feasibility studies and studies of surgical interventions unless they included evaluation of a rehabilitation intervention were excluded. Twenty-five studies were identified for inclusion and grouped thematically. The short-term benefits (i.e., to 3 months) of variable types and dosages of exercise were demonstrated for a number of outcomes including pain, stiffness, function, balance, biomarkers, and executive function and dual task performance (related to falling) in people with knee OA. Modalities such as 890-nm radiation, interferential current, short wave diathermy, ultrasound and neuromuscular functional electrical stimulation did not demonstrate benefit over sham controls in those with knee OA. Spa therapy improved pain over the period of treatment in those with knee and hand OA. Supervised self-management based on cognitive therapy principles resulted in improved outcomes for people with knee OA. Shock absorbing insoles compared to normal footwear minimally improved knee pain and but not function and did not decrease knee load. Neuromuscular and motor training improved function in those with total hip replacement. Accelerated weight-bearing and rehabilitation (8 versus 11 weeks) was demonstrated to be safe and effective at 5 years following matrix autologous chondrocyte implantation for cartilage defects in the knee.


The authors concluded that exercise is still a staple of conservative management although most studies report only short-term outcomes. Self-management strategies also are beneficial in knee OA. They noted also that there appears to be a placebo effect with most trials of physical modalities although spa therapy demonstrated very short-term effects.