Digital therapy for osteoarthritis "superior" study finds

By Leila Hawkins
Research shows that digital therapy is more effective at treating osteoarthritis than conventional treatment...

A new study has found that digital treatments for joint conditions are superior to traditional forms of therapy. 

The research was carried out by the University of Nottingham and the Joint Academy, a digital healthcare platform for physical therapists that serves the US, the UK and Sweden. The randomised controlled trial (RCT) used Joint Academy’s clinical evidence-based digital treatment for chronic joint pain. 

It's the first study to find important benefits of treating knee osteoarthritis digitally compared to traditional treatments. A total of 105 people, who were 45 years or older with a diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis, participated in the study. They were allocated at random to two groups. One was treated digitally and the other self-managed their symptoms according to guidelines. 

Digital-first treatment

Patients in the digital treatment were connected with licensed physical therapists via a smartphone application where they received education and daily exercises. In the other group, patients continued their traditional self-management program and visited their general practitioner when needed. 

Patients receiving digital treatment reduced their pain by 41 per cent, while those receiving traditional care only experienced a 6 per cent decrease. 

“We already knew that digital first-line treatment substantially improves symptoms of osteoarthritis at a significantly lower cost than face-to-face care" Leif Dahlberg, Chief Medical Officer at Joint Academy and Senior Professor in Orthopedics, explains. 

"This study firmly establishes how effective digital treatment actually is in relation to traditional self-management care." 

Osteorthritis is a common chronic condition causing daily pain and stifness - the WHO estimates that between 10 - 15 per cent of adults over 60 worldwide are affected.  

Dahlberg says that the recommended first-line treatment consisting of information, exercise and weight control when needed, is underused. “The study shows the positive impact digital treatment has on the osteoarthritis burden for both patients and healthcare systems. Besides the beneficial outcomes in pain and physical function, the advantages of digital treatment include lower costs as well as making care more easily accessible for those living in rural areas far from the nearest physical therapist."

The study concludes that the findings are especially promising as more patients turn to telemedicine as a safe treatment option amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


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