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Systemic Sclerosis and Physical Therapy

Nov 09, 2020 7:47 pm

Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a chronic fibrosing disease currently with no available cure. Just as pharmacologic treatment is important to control the disease or delay its progression, non-pharmacologic interventions are also essential in the management of patients. 

This article will highlight 2 interrelated studies by the team of Dr Sophie Liem from the Leiden University Medical Center where they looked into the patients’ and physical therapists’ perspectives regarding physical therapy for patients with SSc. 

The first study (Abs#1384) enrolled SSc patients fulfilling the ACR/EULAR 2013 criteria for SSc who were asked to complete a questionnaire comprised of 39 questions regarding their use of physical therapy over the past two years. Sixty-two percent of patients received physical therapy over a period of two years. Majority of the patients received active treatment in the form of muscle strengthening (71%), range of motion (69%) and aerobic exercises (56%). Massage (46%) and kinesiotaping (16%) were common passive modalities. Most patients (63%) preferred to continue or restart physical therapy favouring individual sessions with their therapists. 

Complementing the first, the second study (Abs#1385) invited the physical therapists of the SSc patients and were asked to complete a 37-item questionnaire on sociodemographic information, treatment modalities used, perceived knowledge and skills and educational needs. A portion of the referrals received for physical therapy came from a rheumatologist (30/44). Of note, lack of knowledge on SSc (35%) was a potential barrier during treatment. Interestingly, Google (67%), asking the patient (52%) and Pubmed (40%) were common sources of information. A majority of the therapists expressed the need for an interactive website specifically designed for them that would provide additional information on the treatment of SSc. 

Unmet needs regarding physical therapy have been shown by these studies. Improving patients’ as well as therapists’ knowledge about systemic sclerosis through education, communication and collaboration with the rest of the healthcare team can help address gaps and provide a better understanding of the multidisciplinary care of this disease.


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