Using a Mobile App to Track Physical Activity May Help Reduce Pain from Hip or Knee OA

    By performing a few simple physical exercises daily, and receiving information about their disease regularly, patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip or knee may be able to reduce their pain by as much as half in 6 months while improving their physical function, according to a study from Sweden that used a newly developed mobile app to help study participants keep track of their activity level.

    “We expected patients to see an improvement, but these results exceeded our expectations. This demonstrates that using digital tools when treating chronic illnesses such as osteoarthritis can work very well,” said researcher and physiotherapist Håkan Nero, PhD, from Lund University in Lund, Sweden.

    The study, published in PLoS ONE, is somewhat unique in that the researchers followed the patients over a longer time period, in some cases for up to 1 year.

    “As far as we are aware, no study has previously followed osteoarthritis patients who engaged consistently in self-treatment and reported their results for up to a year,” Dr. Nero said. “There are similar studies from the US, but they involved patients with type 2 diabetes”

    The study included 500 patients from across Sweden who had hip or knee OA, with a majority of them being slightly overweight women around age 60 (average BMI of 28 for those with knee OA and 27 for those with hip OA). Participants completed a health form at the beginning of the study and ever 3 months thereafter. They received new exercises and information on OA daily for the entire period.

    “The exercises were designed to strengthen the muscles in the affected area. It was no more than 2 [or] 3 exercises daily, and took only 5 to 10 minutes,” Dr. Nero said.

    Each week, the patients reported their pain levels in the app, and tested their physical ability every 2 weeks.

    “After 6 months, the group averaged almost half the amount of pain, and their physical mobility had improved by an average of 43%,” Dr. Nero said. “The results were equally good for those who continued the program for up to a year. Normally, hip osteoarthritis is more difficult to treat, but in our study, we saw no difference between the knee and hip, and the same applied to gender and age.”

    In Sweden, 1 in 4 people over age 45 is estimated to have OA. Physical therapy, information and daily physical activity are recommended to relieve the symptoms.

    “Some patients with osteoarthritis may prefer conventional therapy at a clinic, but the results of the study show that it is possible to use digital technology as well. A mobile app is easily accessible regardless of where you are in the world,” Dr. Nero concluded.


    Dahlberg LE, Dell’Isola A, Lohmander LS, Nero H. Improving osteoarthritis care by digital means: effects of a digital self-management program after 24- or 48-weeks of treatment. PLoS One. 2020 Mar 4;15(3):e0229783. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0229783. eCollection 2020.