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Effectiveness of Internet-Based Exercises Aimed at Treating Knee Osteoarthritis

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Photo: Joint Academy

Key Points

Question  What is the effectiveness of an internet-based exercise program vs routine self-management on pain outcomes among patients with knee osteoarthritis?

FindingsThis randomized clinical trial including 105 patients compared an internet-based program, including recommended information and exercises, with usual care for patients with knee osteoarthritis. Patients receiving the internet-based program experienced decreased pain and improved function at 6 weeks vs the usual care group.

MeaningThese findings suggest that digitally delivered treatment information provided an important patient benefit and may decrease the burden of treatment for knee osteoarthritis on both patients and health care systems.


ImportanceOsteoarthritis is a prevalent, debilitating, and costly chronic disease for which recommended first-line treatment is underused.

ObjectiveTo compare the effect of an internet-based treatment for knee osteoarthritis vs routine self-management (ie, usual care).

Design, Setting, and ParticipantsThis randomized clinical trial was conducted from October 2018 to March 2020. Participants included individuals aged 45 years or older with a diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis recruited from an existing primary care database or from social media advertisements were invited. Data were analyzed April to July 2020.

InterventionsThe intervention and control group conformed to first-line knee osteoarthritis treatment. For the intervention group, treatment was delivered via a smartphone application. The control group received routine self-management care.

Main Outcomes and MeasuresThe primary outcome was change from baseline to 6 weeks in self-reported pain during the last 7 days, reported on a numerical rating scale (NRS; range, 0-10, with 0 indicating no pain and 10, worst pain imaginable), compared between groups. Secondary outcomes included 2 physical functioning scores, hamstring, and quadriceps muscle strength, the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC), and quantitative sensory testing.

ResultsAmong a total of 551 participants screened for eligibility, 146 were randomized and 105 were analyzed (mean [SD] age, 66.7 [9.2] years, 71 [67.1%] women), including 48 participants in the intervention group and 57 participants in the control group. There were no significant differences in baseline characteristics between the groups. At the 6-week follow-up, the intervention group showed a greater NRS pain score reduction than the control group (between-group difference, −1.5 [95% CI, −2.2 to −0.8]; P < .001). Similarly, the intervention group had better improvements in the 30-second sit-to-stand test (between-group difference, 3.4 [95% CI, 2.2 to 4.5]; P < .001) and Timed Up-and-Go test (between-group difference, −1.8 [95% CI, −3.0 to −0.5] seconds; P = .007), as well as the WOMAC subscales for pain (between-group difference, −1.1 [95% CI, −2.0 to −0.2]; P = .02), stiffness (between-group difference, −1.0 [95% CI, −1.5 to −0.5]; P < .001), and physical function (between-group difference, −3.4 [95% CI, −6.2 to −0.7]; P = .02). The magnitude of within-group changes in pain (d = 0.83) and function outcomes (30-second sit-to-stand test d = 1.24; Timed Up-and-Go test d = 0.76) in the intervention group corresponded to medium to very strong effects. No adverse events were reported.

Conclusions and RelevanceThese findings suggest that this internet-delivered, evidence-based, first-line osteoarthritis treatment was superior to routine self-managed usual care and could be provided without harm to people with osteoarthritis. Effect sizes observed in the intervention group corresponded to clinically important improvements.

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Schedule3 Oct 2023