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Patients with painful conditions have poorer physical fitness

Increasing physical activity levels can help reduce symptoms

The health benefits of regular physical activity and good physical fitness seem to be countless. Some of these include better respiration, increased strength and a reduced chance of developing diseases and other painful conditions. Data from hospitals shows that some patients with certain conditions are less physically active than healthy people. But for patients with various musculoskeletal conditions-which consists of nearly any type of pain or disability in bones, muscles or joints-who are receiving physical therapy, it's not known if the same is true. Therefore, a study was performed to compare the levels of physical activity and physical fitness between patients with various long-term musculoskeletal conditions receiving physical therapy and a random selection of other people.

Participants assessed with a questionnaire and two tests

Individuals with various musculoskeletal disorders who were receiving physical therapy were recruited. A broad sample of volunteers with different backgrounds was also asked to participate as a control group. This search led to 167 patients and 313 control subjects. Patient characteristics such as age, work-related status, height and weight were recorded for all participants. Then patients filled out a questionnaire with questions about their physical activity habits and were given two tests to assess physical fitness. One test had participants walk as far as possible on a 49-foot track in six minutes, and the other had them rise and sit from a chair as many times as possible within 30 seconds.

Vigorous physical activity and physical fitness levels are significantly lower in patients

Results from the questionnaire showed that the patient group got about the same amount of moderate physical activity compared to controls, but significantly less vigorous physical activity. Vigorous physical activity includes jogging, tennis, basketball and soccer. Patients with musculoskeletal conditions also walked a significantly shorter distance and performed significantly fewer repetitions on the sit-to-stand test than controls, showing a lower level of physical fitness. While these results are somewhat expected, they should be seen as a call to action for physical therapists to give proper advice to their patients. Regular vigorous physical activity and good physical fitness are essential to making improvements, and physical therapists should therefore encourage these habits in patients to help them work towards these goals.

-As reported in the December '14 issue of Physiotherapy

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