Novel intervention to improve strength, mobility in rheumatoid arthritis

Monday, 06 November, 2023

Novel intervention to improve strength, mobility in rheumatoid arthritis

In Australia, rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 450,000 people. Globally, more than 18 million people live with the condition. Women are two to three times more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than men.

A novel exercise intervention being trialled by the University of South Australia researchers, in partnership with Arthritis SA, could help improve physical function and quality of life in people struggling with this debilitating condition.

The researchers are exploring the potential of blood flow restriction (BFR) training to improve the strength and mobility of people with rheumatoid arthritis. BFR training is an exercise technique where people wear pressurised bands — much like blood pressure cuffs — to slow blood flow to muscles while they train. The cuff allows blood flow into the limb but delays its exit, which helps develop muscle strength without the need for heavy weights.

UniSA’s Dr Hunter Bennett, an exercise scientist, said the research hopes to identify interventions that could improve the quality of life for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

“Rheumatoid arthritis can be a particularly debilitating disease. It’s caused by the immune system attacking healthy tissues, which leads to pain and swelling, joint degradation and a loss of muscle mass and strength,” Bennett said.

“While medicines can reduce the symptoms, they don’t address loss of muscle strength and function.

“The best way to increase strength and counteract muscle loss is through resistance training, but this is often problematic for people with rheumatoid arthritis because of pain, fatigue or risk of injury.

“Blood flow restriction training offers an alternative. BFR is used across many sporting and rehabilitation settings in Australia and is considered a safe and effective method for improving strength and function across many clinical populations, including people with osteoarthritis.

“As this technique uses very low loads, it’s a viable option for people with rheumatoid arthritis. So, in our study, we’re looking at how BFR could increase people’s strength, and hopefully increase their movement and overall wellbeing.”

The research team is currently seeking expressions of interest from women and men aged 45–75 years with diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis.

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