A supervised exercise program for patients with venous leg ulcers has shown improved healing times over compression therapy alone, according to a paper published online on Oct. 27 in the British Journal of Dermatology.
In a parallel group feasibility trial, researchers randomized 39 patients with venous ulcers either to a 12-week program of supervised exercise three times a week plus compression therapy (18 patients), or compression therapy alone (21 patients). The exercise program combined aerobic, resistance, and flexibility exercises.
This group showed a median ulcer healing time of 13 weeks (3.9-52 weeks), compared with 34.7 weeks (4.3-52 weeks) for the compression therapy–only group, although the median ulcer size was similar between the two groups at 12 months. At last follow-up of 12 months, 83% of the ulcers in the exercise group had healed, compared with 60% in the control group (Br J Dermatol. 2017 Oct 27. doi: 10.1111/bjd.16089).
The intervention group had a slightly higher quality of life at baseline, as measured by the EQ-5D utility score, and this difference was maintained throughout the study.
Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the exercise group participants went to all the scheduled exercise sessions, with an overall attendance rate of 79%, which the authors noted was high considering many were old, frail, and had no previous exercise experience.
“This was achieved without employing any specific adherence-enhancing components or provision of behavioral change support, which could have potentially improved attendance rates and the effect of the intervention even further,” wrote Markos Klonizakis, DPhil, from the Centre for Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield (England) Hallam University, and his coinvestigators.
There were no serious adverse events, and only two exercise-related adverse events in the intervention group – both excessive discharge from the ulcer – which resulted in postponement of the exercise sessions for those two individuals.
The exercise regimen was associated with modest reductions in weight, while those in the control group showed an overall increase in weight.
Researchers also assessed the relative costs of the two interventions by getting participants to keep a diary of their use of National Health Service resources, health care visits, prescriptions, and other out-of-pocket expenses.
They calculated that the total mean National Health Service cost per participant for the exercise intervention was £813.27, and £2,298.57 for the control group who received compression therapy only.
The investigators noted that their initial plan had been met with some skepticism from clinicians and patients, some of whom felt that exercise would have a detrimental rather than positive effect on venous ulcer healing.
“Our results suggest that there may be significant potential benefit in healing rates and that, if this were confirmed in a full trial, the introduction of supervised exercise for venous leg ulcers may well also be cost-saving for the National Health Service.”
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research. No conflicts of interest were declared.