Conference Coverage

Occupational therapy program helps thumb OA



– A multimodal occupational therapy intervention in patients with thumb base osteoarthritis brought clinically meaningful improvements in pain, grip strength, and function, at least short term, in a Norwegian multicenter randomized clinical trial, Anne Therese Tveter reported at the OARSI 2019 World Congress.

Anne Therese Tveter, a physiotherapist at Diakonhjemmet Hospital, Oslo Bruce Jancin/MDedge News

Anne Therese Tveter

OA of the thumb base – that is, the carpometacarpal joint – causes more pain and dysfunction than disease involvement at many other sites because of the evolutionary importance of the opposable thumb. Current guidelines recommend conservative therapies as first line for hand OA; however, there is a dearth of high-quality evidence for multimodal occupational therapy in the special setting of thumb-base OA. This was the impetus for a randomized trial of 170 consecutive patients with thumb OA who presented to three Norwegian rheumatology departments for surgical consultation, explained Ms. Tveter, a physiotherapist at the Norwegian National Advisory Unit on Rehabilitation in Rheumatology at Diakonhjemmet Hospital in Oslo.

Participants were randomized to a 3-month, multimodal self-management intervention. It included education about OA; ergonomic principles; the importance of using separate orthoses as much as possible both day and night to stabilize the joint, improve performance, and relieve pain; and – at the heart of the program – instruction in hand exercises to enhance joint mobility, strength, and stability, as well as hand-stretching exercises. The exercises were to be done at home three times per week. Also, the active intervention group received five common assistive devices to help them in household tasks, such as opening jars. The control group received usual care, which was basically information about hand OA, she said at the meeting sponsored by the Osteoarthritis Research Society International.

Ms. Tveter presented an interim analysis focused on the 3-month outcomes. At 4 months, participants underwent surgical consultation. The study will continue for 2 years, with endpoints including the impact of the occupational therapy intervention on need for joint surgery, as well as long-term pain and function measures.

At baseline, most patients reported mild pain, with a median score of 3 on a 10-point numeric rating scale, and moderate disability. Baseline grip and pinch strength was 60%-65% of normal. The 3-month outcomes included pain at rest and during pinch- and grip-strength testing, range of motion through palmar abduction and abduction in the carpometacarpal joint, and self-reported function as measured using the validated MAP-Hand and QuickDASH physiotherapy measures. Adherence to the program was assessed by review of patient diaries.

At 3 months of follow-up, the active-intervention group showed significant improvements in all measures of pain and function except for the flexion deficit, which was minimal to begin with. In contrast, the control group showed no improvements and a trend towards deterioration in pain and function.

Specifically, the intervention group averaged a 1.4-point reduction in pain at rest on a self-reported 10-point scale, a 1.1-point improvement in pain following a grip strength test, and a 0.8-point improvement in pain following a pinch test. On the MAP-Hand self-reported test of function, the intervention group showed a 0.18-point improvement from a baseline of 2 on the 1-4 scale, coupled with an 8.1-point improvement on the QuickDASH, which is scored 0-100.

Adherence to the program was deemed acceptable: 82% of patients reported doing their hand exercises at least twice per week for at least 8 of the 12 weeks, 61% used their day orthotic devices at least 4 days per week for 8 weeks, 54% used the night orthoses at least 5 nights per week for 8 weeks, and 69% utilized at least three of the five home-assist devices. In total, 64% of patients adhered to at least three of the four program components.

Asked for the rationale in requesting that patients do their home exercises three times per week instead of daily, Ms. Tveter replied that three times per week is more realistic and is consistent with major guidelines.

“It would be nice to exercise every day. I don’t think it would be possible to get adherence to that,” she said.

She reported having no financial conflicts regarding the study, funded by scientific research grants from the Norwegian government.

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