Hip arthritis: Is physical therapy a waste of time?

"For 24 weeks after treatment, the physio group continued unsupervised home exercise while the placebo group self-applied gel three times a week," says Kim Bennell. "To our surprise, patient outcomes were roughly the same the 13 and 36 week intervals." (Credit: iStockphoto)

Physical therapy for hip osteoarthritis does not appear to relieve pain or increase function any more than placebo treatments, according to new research.

“These results question the benefits of the specific physiotherapy components for this patient population,” says Kim Bennell, a professor at the University of Melbourne.

“We are currently conducting other trials to further examine the effects of other non-drug treatments for people with osteoarthritis to see whether benefits can be improved,” she says.

Hip osteoarthritis is a prevalent and costly chronic musculoskeletal condition. Clinical guidelines recommend physiotherapy as treatment, although its effectiveness has never been proven.

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In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Bennell of the University of Melbourne and her colleagues randomly assigned patients with hip osteoarthritis to attend 10 sessions of either active physiotherapy treatment (which included education and advice, manual therapy, home exercise, and walking with an aid, if needed) or placebo treatments (which included inactive ultrasounds and gel).

“For 24 weeks after treatment, the physio group continued unsupervised home exercise while the placebo group self-applied gel three times a week,” says Bennell.

“To our surprise, patient outcomes were roughly the same the 13 and 36 week intervals.”

The treatment group actually reported a greater number of adverse events, although they were relatively mild.

Source: University of Melbourne