The evaluation of a home-based program for hands in patients with systemic sclerosis.

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STUDY DESIGN: This study used a quasi-experimental design where patients were evaluated before and after participation in the self-management program.

INTRODUCTION: Hands are commonly affected in systemic sclerosis (SSc). Strategies to maintain or improve hand function are indicated upon diagnosis and throughout the course of the disease.

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY: The purpose of this study was to develop and evaluate a home-based program for hands in patients with SSc.

METHODS: A home-based self-management program that consisted of concise instructions about SSc and hand exercises was developed and evaluated in a group of patients with SSc during 8 weeks. Primary outcome measures were hand pain (Visual Analogue Scale) and hand function (Cochin Hand Function Scale). Secondary outcome measures were disability (Scleroderma Health Assessment Questionnaire), finger motion (delta finger-to-palm), grip strength, tip and key pinch strength, Raynaud phenomenon and digital ulcers impact, quality of life (Short Form Health Survey). For comparisons between different times analysis of variance for repeated measures was used. To calculate the effect size (ES), the Cohen's test was performed. To evaluate skin moisturizing and warming habits before and after intervention, the McNemar test was used. Statistical significance was set at P ≤ .05.

RESULTS: Twenty-two SSc patients (19 women: 3 men; 16 limited scleroderma: 6 diffuse scleroderma) completed the program. Significant improvements were noted for hand pain (3.97 vs 2.21, ES: 0.69), Cochin Hand Function Scale (19.24 vs 12.48, ES: 0.48), Scleroderma Health Assessment Questionnaire (0.95 vs 0.48, ES: 1.01), delta finger-to-palm (92.86 vs 106.33, ES: 0.40), grip strength (14.43 vs 19, ES: 0.58), tip pinch strength (2.49 vs 4.18, ES: 1.15), key pinch strength (4.01 vs 5.22, ES: 0.76), Raynaud phenomenon impact (0.94 vs 0.47, ES: 0.75), Short Form Health Survey-role physical (47.38 vs 60.14, ES: 0.61), physical functioning (34.62 vs 61.9, ES: 0.18), social functioning (60.71 vs 75.6, ES: 0.64), bodily pain (50.55 vs 63.38, ES: 0.58), vitality (45.95 vs 62, ES: 2.22), mental health (56.62 vs 72.38, ES: 0.84) moisturizing, and cold avoidance habits. Patients considered the program easy to follow with no adverse effects related to exercises.

DISCUSSION: We developed a home based hand care program to be offered to SSc patients. Improvements in hand function, strength, disability, motion, and overall quality of life were independent of age, income, education level, disease duration, and skin score. Our findings support those of other studies that reported the benefits of hand exercises in SSc. Some study limitations include the lack of a control group, the small number of subjects and the short-time follow up.

CONCLUSIONS: This home-based program for patients with SSc improved hand pain, function, mobility, and strength at the end of 8 weeks. Patient adherence and sustained efficacy is still to be determined.


Hanley & Belfus, Inc.

Publication Title

Journal of hand therapy : official journal of the American Society of Hand Therapists