Tailored hand exercise programme shown to improve function and quality of life for patients with rheumatoid arthritis

A tailored hand exercise programme, developed researchers at the Centre for Rehabilitation Research at Oxford, has been shown to improve function and quality of life for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

The results of the SARAH trial, published today in The Lancet, demonstrated the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of adding an individually tailored, progressive exercise programme for the hands and upper limbs in addition to usual care.

The programme is made up of a series of strengthening and stretching exercises, which act as a low-cost intervention and can be adopted alongside regular medication.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 400,000 people in the UK, their quality of life can be significantly impacted by reduced hand and wrist function, which affects around 80% of patients.

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research, the trial was led by Professor Sallie Lamb and the University of Warwick.

Approximately 80% of the patients using the SARAH programme alongside their usual medication reported improved hand function a year after starting the programme. Significant improvements in strength and dexterity were also observed.

Mark Williams, Research Fellow, commented: “Current best practice mandates medication regimens, which substantially improve control of disease activity and joint damage, but don’t always impact on disability and health-related quality of life. By adding an optimised exercise programme for hands and upper limbs to usual care for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, we can address key issues of this debilitating condition to help patients in their daily lives.”

Our next step is to implement this programme into clinical practice, ensuring ease of access for patients.

Interventions such as this will be invaluable as the NHS looks to address that rising demand within restrained budgets. This proactive approach enables people to manage their own condition and lead full and active lives while cutting costs for the NHS and social care.
- Professor Karen Middleton (Chief Executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy)

              Read more about the SARAH Trial