The effectiveness of exercise for improving hand and wrist function in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is uncertain.
The study aims were (1) to estimate the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of adding an optimised exercise programme for hands and upper limbs to standard care for patients with RA; and (2) to qualitatively describe the experience of participants in the trial with a particular emphasis on acceptability of the intervention, exercise behaviours and reasons for adherence/non-adherence.
A pragmatic, multicentred, individually randomised controlled trial with an embedded qualitative study. Outcome assessors were blind to group assignment and independent of treatment delivery.
Adults with RA who had pain and dysfunction of the hands and/or wrists and had been on stable medication for at least 3 months. Patients were excluded if they were under 18 years old, had undergone upper limb surgery/fracture in the last 6 months, were on a waiting list for upper limb surgery or were pregnant.
Main outcome measures
The primary outcome was the Michigan Hand Outcome Questionnaire (MHQ) overall hand function subscale score at 12 months. Secondary outcome measures included the full MHQ, pain, health-related quality of life (Short Form questionnaire-12 items), impairment (grip strength, dexterity and range of motion) and self-efficacy. European Quality of Life-5 Dimensions, medication and health-care use were collected for the health economics evaluation. Follow-up was at 4 and 12 months post randomisation. Analysis was performed on an intention-to-treat basis.