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PURPOSE: This study explores the experience of participants taking part in a hand exercise programme for people with rheumatoid arthritis with a focus on adherence. The exercise programme was tested in a randomised controlled trial. This parallel qualitative study will inform future implementation into clinical practice. METHOD: Twenty-seven semi-structured interviews from 14 participants were undertaken at two time points (4 and 12 months after randomisation). We collected data of participants' experiences over time. This was guided by an interview schedule. Interview data were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis which is informed by phenomenological and hermeneutic theory. We recruited participants from National Health Service rheumatology and therapy departments. RESULTS: At 4 months, 11/14 participants reported continuing with the exercises. By 12 months, 7/13 participants still reported exercising. The ability to establish a routine determined whether participants adhered to the exercise programme. This was sometimes influenced by practical issues. We also identified facilitators and barriers to regular exercise in the themes of the following: the therapeutic encounter, perceived benefit of exercises, attitude of mind, confidence, and unpredictability. CONCLUSIONS: Establishing a routine was an important step towards participants being able to exercise independently. Therapists provided participants with skills to continue to exercise while dealing with changes in symptoms and schedules. Potential barriers to long-term exercise adherence need to be taken into account and addressed for successful implementation of this programme. Implications for Rehabilitation Behavioural change components such as the use of an exercise planner (stating intentions of where, when and how), daily diary sheets, and joint goal setting enhance adherence to a hand exercise programme for RA by helping to establish routines. Exercise routines need to be flexible enough to fit in with life and symptom changes whilst delivering a sufficient dosage. Therapists facilitate this process by using behavioural components alongside more commonly used aspects of care (assessment, education, advice, and encouragement) to enable people with RA to become independent exercisers.

Original publication




Journal article


Disabil rehabil

Publication Date





1856 - 1863


Rheumatoid arthritis, adherence, exercises, patient interviews, Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Arthritis, Rheumatoid, Attitude, Exercise Therapy, Female, Hand, Humans, Interviews as Topic, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Middle Aged, Patient Compliance, Qualitative Research, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Resistance Training, United Kingdom