Occupational Therapy Treatment to Improve Upper Extremity Function in Individuals with Early Systemic Sclerosis: A Pilot Study

Academic Article


  • Objective: To determine the feasibility and preliminary effects of occupational therapy to improve upper extremity function in patients with early systemic sclerosis (SSc; scleroderma) who have upper extremity contractures. Methods: A single-group pilot clinical rehabilitation trial was conducted at the University of Michigan Scleroderma Center. Patients with SSc and ≥1 upper extremity contracture (n = 21) participated in a total of 8 weekly in-person occupational therapy sessions. The therapy consisted of thermal modalities, tissue mobilization, and upper extremity mobility exercises. The participants were instructed to perform upper extremity exercises at home between sessions. Feasibility was measured by the percent enrollment as well as session attendance and session duration. The primary outcome measure was the Shortened Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand measure (QuickDASH); secondary and exploratory outcomes included the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) physical function measures; objective measures of upper extremity mobility, strength, and coordination; and skin thickening. Linear mixed models were used to determine the effects of treatment on the primary and secondary outcomes. Results: Fifty percent of potentially eligible subjects (24 of 48) were interested in participating. Twenty-one (88%) of the 24 subjects were enrolled, and 19 (91%) of these 21 subjects completed all sessions. The mean ± SD age of the participants was 47.9 ± 16.1 years; 100% had diffuse SSc, and the mean disease duration was 3.1 years. At 8 weeks, participants had statistically significant improvement in the QuickDASH and PROMIS physical function measure (P = 0.0012 and P = 0.004, respectively). Approximately one-half of participants in the sample achieved improvement in the QuickDASH and PROMIS measure that exceeded minimally important differences. Conclusion: In-person treatment sessions were feasible in the patients with SSc and resulted in statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvements in upper extremity and physical function. In future studies, the effects of SSc should be compared with those in a control condition, and the durability of treatment effects should be examined.
  • Authors

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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Murphy SL; Barber MW; Homer K; Dodge C; Cutter GR; Khanna D
  • Start Page

  • 1653
  • End Page

  • 1660
  • Volume

  • 70
  • Issue

  • 11