Assessment of a sixteen-week training program on strength, pain, and function in rheumatoid arthritis patients

Hilary G. Flint-Wagner, Jeffrey Lisse, Timothy G. Lohman, Scott B. Going, Terri Guido, Ellen Cussler, Donald Gates, David E. Yocum

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44 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE:: To assess the effects of a 16-week progressive, individualized, high-intensity strength training program on muscle strength, pain, and function in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). METHODS:: Twenty-four RA patients (men, n = 5; women, n = 19) receiving infliximab participated in a randomized controlled trial. The strength training (ST) group (n = 16) participated in a supervised program 3 times per week, and the control (C) group (n = 8) continued with standard of care as overseen by their rheumatologist. Assessments were completed at baseline and at weeks 8 and 16. Strength was measured by 3 repetition maximum (3RM), isometric hand dynamometer, and isokinetic dynamometer. A 100-mm visual analogue scale was used to assess pain. Functional performance was derived from a timed 50-foot walk and the Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index. RESULTS:: The mean percent increase in strength (3RM) for the ST group from baseline to week 16 was 46.1% ± 31.6% (P < 0.01) (mean of all three 3RM exercises: hammer curl, leg press, and incline dumbbell press), with mean gains in strength up to 4 times that of baseline values reported in all strength training exercises (upper and lower body) performed during exercise sessions. On average, right-hand grip strength increased by 2.9 ± 4.0 kg in the ST group, in comparison with a loss of 1.2 ± 3.0 kg in the C group over 16 weeks. The ST group had a 53% reduction in pain, in comparison with almost no change in the C group. The ST group had a significant improvement in 50-foot walk time, with a mean reduction of-1.2 ± 1.6 seconds, in comparison with the C group (mean increase of 0.8 ± 1.0 seconds; P = 0.01) over the 16 weeks. There was a clinically important difference (predefined as mean change ±0.25) in the Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index in the ST group (-0.4 ± 0.4) but not in the C group (-0.1 ± 0.4). CONCLUSION:: High-intensity strength training in RA patients with varying levels of disease activity and joint damage had a large, significant effect on strength, and led to improvements in pain and function, with additive patient benefits beyond the effect of their infliximab use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-171
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Rheumatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • Exercise
  • Function
  • Pain
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Strength training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology


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