The objective of this review was to assess the effects of interventions to improve adherence to exercise and physical activity for people with chronic musculoskeletal pain. 42 trials with 8243 participants, mainly with osteoarthritis and spinal pain were included. Methods used for improving and measuring adherence in the included trials were inconsistent. Two of the 17 trials that compared different types of exercise showed positive effects, suggesting that the type of exercise is not an important factor in improving exercise adherence. Six trials studied different methods of delivering exercise, such as supervising exercise sessions, refresher sessions and audio or videotapes of the exercises to take home. Of these, five trials found interventions improved exercise adherence. Four trials evaluated specific interventions targeting exercise adherence; three of these showed a positive effect on exercise adherence. In eight trials studying self-management programmes, six improved adherence measures. One trial found graded activity was more effective than usual care for improving exercise adherence. Cognitive behavioural therapy was effective in a trial in people with whiplash-associated disorder, but not in trials of people with other CMP. In the trials that showed a positive effect on adherence, association between clinical outcomes and exercise adherence was conflicting.
Interventions such as supervised or individualised exercise therapy and self-management techniques may enhance exercise adherence. However, high-quality, randomised trials with long-term follow up that explicitly address adherence to exercises and physical activity are needed. A standard validated measure of exercise adherence should be used consistently in future studies.