The aim of this review was to conduct a systematic critical appraisal of guidelines to provide a summary of recommendations for the physical management of osteoarthritis (OA). The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus with Full Text, Scopus, ScienceDirect, PEDro, and Google Scholar databases were searched (2000-2013) to identify all guidelines, protocols, and recommendations for the management or treatment of OA. In addition, Internet searches of all relevant arthritis organizations were undertaken. All searches were performed between July 2012 and end of April 2013. Guidelines that included only pharmacological, injection therapy, or surgical interventions were excluded. Guidelines published only in English were retrieved. OA guidelines developed from evidence-based research, consensus, and/or expert opinion were retrieved. There were no restrictions on severity or site of OA, sex, or age. Nineteen guidelines were identified for evaluation. The quality of all guidelines was critically appraised using the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation II instrument. Each guideline was independently reviewed. All relevant recommendations for the physical management of OA were synthesized, graded, and ranked based on available evidence. Seventeen guidelines with recommendations on the physical management of OA met the inclusion criteria and underwent a full critical appraisal. There were variations in the interventions, levels of evidence, and strength of recommendations across the guidelines. Forty different interventions were identified. Recommendations were graded from “strongly recommended” to “unsupported.” Exercise and education were found to be strongly suggested by most guidelines.
The review found exercise and education to be key recommendations supporting the importance of rehabilitation in the physical management of OA. This critical appraisal can assist aid care providers who are involved in the management of people with OA.