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The feasibility of a randomised controlled trial of physiotherapy for adults with joint hypermobility syndrome

Research output: Book/ReportReport

Shea Palmer, Fiona Cramp, Emma Clark, Rachel Lewis, Sara Brookes, William Hollingworth, Nicky Welton, Howard Thom, Rohini Terry, Katharine A. Rimes, Jeremy Horwood

Original languageEnglish
PublisherNIHR Journals Library
Number of pages290
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


King's Authors


Background: Joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS) is a heritable disorder associated with laxity and pain in multiple joints. Physiotherapy is the mainstay of treatment, but there is little research investigating its clinical effectiveness. 

Objectives: To develop a comprehensive physiotherapy intervention for adults with JHS; to pilot the intervention; and to conduct a pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) to determine the feasibility of conducting a future definitive RCT. 

Design: Patients’ and health professionals’ perspectives on physiotherapy for JHS were explored in focus groups (stage 1). A working group of patient research partners, clinicians and researchers used this information to develop the physiotherapy intervention. This was piloted and refined on the basis of patients’ and physiotherapists’ feedback (stage 2). A parallel two-arm pilot RCT compared ‘advice’ with ‘advice and physiotherapy’ (stage 3). Random allocation was via an automated randomisation service, devised specifically for the study. Owing to the nature of the interventions, it was not possible to blind clinicians or patients to treatment allocation. 

Setting: Stage 1 – focus groups were conducted in four UK locations. Stages 2 and 3 – piloting of the intervention and the pilot RCT were conducted in two UK secondary care NHS trusts. Participants: Stage 1 – patient focus group participants (n = 25, three men) were aged > 18 years, had a JHS diagnosis and had received physiotherapy within the preceding 12 months. The health professional focus group participants (n = 16, three men; 14 physiotherapists, two podiatrists) had experience of managing JHS. Stage 2 – patient participants (n = 8) were aged > 18 years, had a JHS diagnosis and no other musculoskeletal conditions causing pain. Stage 3 – patient participants for the pilot RCT (n = 29) were as for stage 2 but the lower age limit was 16 years. 

Intervention: For the pilot RCT (stage 3) the advice intervention was a one-off session, supplemented by advice booklets. All participants could ask questions specific to their circumstances and receive tailored advice. Participants were randomly allocated to ‘advice’ (no further advice or physiotherapy) or ‘advice and physiotherapy’ (an additional six 30-minute sessions over 4 months). The physiotherapy intervention was supported by a patient handbook and was delivered on a one-to-one patient–therapist basis. It aimed to increase patients’ physical activity through developing knowledge, understanding and skills to better manage their condition. 

Main outcome measures: Data from patient and health professional focus groups formed the main outcome from stage 1. Patient and physiotherapist interview data also formed a major component of stages 2 and 3. The primary outcome in stage 3 related to the feasibility of a future definitive RCT [number of referrals, recruitment and retention rates, and an estimate of the value of information (VOI) of a future RCT]. Secondary outcomes included clinical measures (physical function, pain, global status, self-reported joint count, quality of life, exercise self-efficacy and adverse events) and resource use (to estimate cost-effectiveness). Outcomes were recorded at baseline, 4 months and 7 months. 

Results: Stage 1 – JHS is complex and unpredictable. Physiotherapists should take a long-term holistic approach rather than treating acutely painful joints in isolation. Stage 2 – a user-informed physiotherapy intervention was developed and evaluated positively. Stage 3 – recruitment to the pilot RCT was challenging, primarily because of a perceived lack of equipoise between advice and physiotherapy. The qualitative evaluation provided very clear guidance to inform a future RCT, including enhancement of the advice intervention. Some patients reported that the advice intervention was useful and the physiotherapy intervention was again evaluated very positively. The rate of return of questionnaires was low in the advice group but reasonable in the physiotherapy group. The physiotherapy intervention showed evidence of promise in terms of primary and secondary clinical outcomes. The advice arm experienced more adverse events. The VOI analysis indicated the potential for high value from a future RCT. Such a trial should form the basis of future research efforts. 


A future definitive RCT of physiotherapy for JHS seems feasible, although the advice intervention should be made more robust to address perceived equipoise and subsequent attrition. 

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