Walking Exercise for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Seán R. O'Connor, Mark A. Tully, Brigid Ryan, Chris M. Bleakley, George D. Baxter, Judy M. Bradley, Suzanne M. McDonough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

145 Citations (Scopus)
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Objective: To systematically review the evidence examining effects of walking interventions on pain and self-reported function in individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Data Sources: Six electronic databases (Medline, CINAHL, PsychINFO, PEDro, Sport Discus and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials) were searched from January 1980 up to March 2014.
Study Selection: Randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials in adults with chronic low back pain, osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia comparing walking interventions to a non-exercise or non-walking exercise control group.
Data Extraction: Data were independently extracted using a standardized form. Methodological quality was assessed using the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) system.
Data Synthesis: Twenty-six studies (2384 participants) were included and suitable data from 17 were pooled for meta-analysis with a random effects model used to calculate between group mean differences and 95% confidence intervals. Data were analyzed according to length of follow-up (short-term: ≤8 weeks post randomization; medium-term: >2 months - 12 months; long-term: > 12 months). Interventions were associated with small to moderate improvements in pain at short (mean difference (MD) -5.31, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) -8.06 to -2.56) and medium-term follow-up (MD -7.92, 95% CI -12.37 to -3.48). Improvements in function were observed at short (MD -6.47, 95% CI -12.00 to -0.95), medium (MD -9.31, 95% CI -14.00 to -4.61) and long-term follow-up (MD -5.22, 95% CI 7.21 to -3.23).
Conclusions: Evidence of fair methodological quality suggests that walking is associated with significant improvements in outcome compared to control interventions but longer-term effectiveness is uncertain. Using the USPSTF system, walking can be recommended as an effective form of exercise or activity for individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain but should be supplemented with strategies aimed at maintaining participation. Further work is also required examining effects on important health related outcomes in this population in robustly designed studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)724-734
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number4
Early online date18 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


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