Article Text

Download PDFPDF
O37-3 Results of a multi-centre randomised controlled trial of the management of distal arm pain: the arm pain trial
  1. Karen Walker-Bone1,
  2. Gary Macfarlane2,
  3. Keith Palmer1,
  4. David Coggon1,
  5. Kim Burton3,
  6. Paul Heine4,
  7. Canidida McCabe5,
  8. Paul McNamee2,
  9. Alex McConnachie6,
  10. Gareth Jones2
  1. 1Arthritis Research UK/MRC Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work, Southampton, UK
  2. 2University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  3. 3University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK
  4. 4Warwick Medical School Clinical Trials Unit, Warwick, UK
  5. 5University of the West of England, Bristol, UK
  6. 6University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK


Background Pain in the distal arm is common, costly and disabling. As with musculoskeletal pain in the lower back, the risk factors are both mechanical and psychosocial. We set out to test the hypothesis that (a) advice to remain active would lead to better outcomes at follow-up than advice to rest and (b) rapid physiotherapy would give superior outcomes than normal (waiting-time) physiotherapy.

Methods This was a multi-centre randomised controlled trial of people referred to physiotherapy with distal arm pain. The principal outcome measure was complete absence of disability on a modified DASH questionnaire at 6 months.

Results 539 patients were randomised evenly between the three groups (179, 182 and 178, respectively). Participants had a mean age of 49 yrs (SD 13.6); 54.5% were female; and 87.6% were right handed. Approximately an equal number of patients reported pain in their elbow, wrist/hand, or both; and pain was most common in the dominant side (45.5%), or bilateral (24.7%). 435 participants (81%) provided follow-up data at 26 weeks.

32.1% of patients who received advice to rest were free of disability at 26 weeks, compared to 45.2% of those who received advice to remain active. Thus, advice to rest was associated with a decrease in the likelihood of recovery (odds ratio: 0.54; 95% CI: 0.32–0.90). There was no difference in recovery between those receiving immediate physiotherapy (35.8%) versus delayed (38.6%). Indeed, there was some evidence to suggest that immediate physiotherapy was inferior to advised activity (odds ratio: 0.64; 95% CI: 0.39–1.07) physiotherapy.

Discussion We have shown, among patients referred to physiotherapy with distal upper limb pain, that advice to remain active is associated with a superior long-term outcome, compared with advice to rest the arm, and the results do not support the provision of ‘fast-track’ physiotherapy for such patients.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.