Novel intervention to improve strength, mobility in rheumatoid arthritis

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

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

The researchers are investigating the potential of blood flow restriction training (BFR) to improve the strength and mobility of people with rheumatoid arthritis. BFR training is an exercise technique in which people wear pressurized bands – much like blood pressure cuffs – to slow blood flow to the muscles while they exercise. The cuff allows blood flow to the limb but slows its outflow, developing muscle strength without the need for heavy weights.

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

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

“Although medications can reduce symptoms, they do not address the loss of muscle strength and function.

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

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

“Because this technique uses very low loads, it is a viable option for people with rheumatoid arthritis. So in our research we look at how BFR can increase people’s strength and hopefully increase their freedom of movement and overall well-being.”

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

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