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Improvement in upper leg muscle strength underlies beneficial effects of exercise therapy in knee osteoarthritis: secondary analysis from a randomised controlled trial

Abstract

Objectives

Although exercise therapy is effective for reducing pain and activity limitations in patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA), the underlying mechanisms are unclear. This study aimed to evaluate if improvements in neuromuscular factors (i.e. upper leg muscle strength and knee proprioception) underlie the beneficial effects of exercise therapy in patients with knee OA.

Design

Secondary analyses from a randomised controlled trial, with measurements at baseline, 6 weeks, 12 weeks and 38 weeks.

Setting

Rehabilitation centre.

Participants

One hundred and fifty-nine patients diagnosed with knee OA.

Intervention

Exercise therapy.

Main outcome measures

Changes in pain [numeric rating scale (NRS)] and activity limitations [Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) physical function subscale and get-up-and-go test] during the study period. Independent variables were changes in upper leg muscle strength and knee joint proprioception (i.e. motion sense) during the study period. Longitudinal regression analyses (generalised estimating equation) were performed to analyse associations between changes in upper leg muscle strength and knee proprioception with changes in pain and activity limitations.

Results

Improved muscle strength was significantly associated with reductions in NRS pain {B coefficient −2.5 [95% confidence interval (CI) −3.7 to −1.4], meaning that every change of 1 unit of strength was linked to a change of −2.5 units of pain}, WOMAC physical function (−8.8, 95% CI −13.4 to −4.2) and get-up-and-go test (−1.7, 95% CI −2.4 to −1.0). Improved proprioception was not significantly associated with better outcomes of exercise therapy (P > 0.05).

Conclusions

Upper leg muscle strengthening is one of the mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of exercise therapy in patients with knee OA.

Cite this article

Improvement in upper leg muscle strength underlies beneficial effects of exercise therapy in knee osteoarthritis: secondary analysis from a randomised controlled trial.

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