Physical Therapy and Exercise Interventions in Huntington’s Disease: A Mixed Methods Systematic Review

A number of studies evaluating physical therapy and exercise interventions in Huntington’s disease have been conducted over the past 15 years. However, an assessment of the quality and strength of the evidence in support of these
interventions is lacking. The purpose of this systematic review was to investigate the effectiveness of physical therapy and exercise interventions in people with Huntington’s disease, and to examine the perceptions of patients, families and caregivers of these interventions.

This mixed-methods systematic review utilized the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) approach and extraction tools to evaluate the literature from January 2003 until May 2016. The review considered interventions that included exercise and physical therapy interventions, and included both quantitative and qualitative outcome measures.

Twenty (20) studies met the inclusion criteria, including eighteen (18) that had quantitative outcome measures and two (2) that utilized qualitative methods. JBI Levels of evidence for the 18 quantitative studies were as follows:  Eight studies were at evidence Level 1, seven were at Level 2, two were at Level 3, and one was at Level 4.

This review suggests that there is preliminary support for the benefits of exercise and physical activity in Huntington’s disease in terms of motor function, gait speed, and balance, as well as a range of physical and social benefits identified through patient-reported outcomes. Variability in mode of intervention as well as outcome measures limits the interpretability of these studies, and high-quality studies that incorporate adaptive trial designs for this rare disease are needed.