June 2020


Pain and physical function at baseline and follow-up. Courtesy of PLOS ONE.

By performing a few simple physical exercises daily and receiving information about their disease regularly, 500 patients with osteoarthritis (OA) were able to, on average, halve their pain in 6 months—and improve their physical function. The participants in the study from Lund University, Sweden, used a newly developed mobile app to help them keep track of their activities; researchers followed the patients over a longer than typical period, in some cases for up to a year. The study is published in PLOS ONE.

“We expected patients to see an improvement, but these results exceeded our expectations,” said researcher and physiotherapist Håkan Nero, PhD. “This demonstrates that using digital tools when treating chronic illnesses such as osteoarthritis can work very well.” A mobile app is easily accessible and can be used anywhere, and it provides an alternative to physical therapy in a clinic, he said.

The study included 500 patients from all over Sweden with OA of the knee or hip, with a majority of slightly overweight women around the age of 60 (an average body mass index of 28 for those with knee OA and 27 for those with hip OA). At the beginning of the study, participants filled out a health form, something they then had to repeat every 3 months. They received 2 to 3 exercises daily, which took only 5 to 10 minutes to complete, as well as daily lessons on OA for the entire period. The exercises were designed to strengthen the muscles in the affected area.

Each week, the patients reported their pain levels in the app, and tested their physical ability every 2 weeks. “After 6 months, the group averaged almost half the amount of pain, and their physical mobility had improved by an average of 43%,” said Nero. “The results were equally good for those who continued the program for up to a year. Normally, hip osteoarthritis is more difficult to treat, but in our study, we saw no difference between knee and hip, and the same applied to gender and age.”

The app is operated by the company Joint Academy, Malmö, Sweden, for which Nero is a part-time consultant.

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