Millions of Americans suffer from the pain of arthritic knees.
In a new study, researchers found that an innovative exercise regimen may help relieve discomfort and improve knee function.
The research was conducted by a team at the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina.
The program is called STEP-KOA (short for a stepped exercise program for patients with knee osteoarthritis).
It starts with gentle exercises at home and, if needed, moves to phone consultation and in-person physical therapy.
In the study, researchers assigned more than 300 patients with painful knee osteoarthritis to either STEP-KOA or arthritis education.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the knee. It is a degenerative, “wear-and-tear” type of arthritis.
STEP-KOA starts with an internet-based exercise program. If it is not effective, the patient moves to step two, which included twice-monthly coaching phone calls for three months.
If the pain still does not improve, the patient moves to step three, which included in-person physical therapy.
Participants in the arthritis education group were mailed educational materials every two weeks.
After nine months, the team found 65% of patients in STEP-KOA progressed to step two, and 35% went on to step three.
Compared to participants who received education only, the stepped-care group had greater improvement in pain and function.
This strategy could lower health care costs and tailor programs to patients’ needs.
The team says STEP-KOA could be an efficient way to deliver exercise and physical therapy services for people with knee osteoarthritis.
It can help reserve the more resource-intensive steps for people who do not make improvements earlier.
This could be important in health systems that are trying to maximize resources or when there is limited access to physical therapy.
One author of the study is Kelli Allen, a research health scientist.
The study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
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