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  • Updated Guideline for Management of Hand, Hip, Knee OA Strongly Recommends Exercise-Based Approaches

    In this review: 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the Management of Osteoarthritis of the Hand, Hip, and Knee
    (Arthritis Care & Research, February, 2020)

    The Message
    Although researchers were not able to recommend precisely what kind and how much, exercise interventions in general have once again emerged as one of the most strongly recommended approaches to treating knee, hip, or hand osteoarthritis, according to an updated practice guideline issued by the American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation. The recommendation for exercise is the result of an extensive review of physical, psychosocial, and pharmacological approaches that evaluated the evidence base for their use. Other strongly recommended approaches for all three types of OA included self-management programs and oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Weight loss (when appropriate) and tai chi were also strongly recommended approaches for individuals with hip or knee OA.

    The study
    Authors based their recommendations on an extensive review of studies, most of them randomized controlled trials, conducted through August 2018. The literature identification, review, and ultimate recommendation process involved five teams that included both provider subject matter experts and patient panel, ending with a voting panel that included PTs, rheumatologists, an internist, occupational therapists, and patients.

    Analysis was focused on approaches available in the U.S. and used what’s called the GRADE system that resulted in recommendations for or against a particular approach, accompanied by a note of either "strong" or "conditional" support for each recommendation, as well as an intended range of patients (hip, knee, or hand OA alone or in combinations). APTA members Carol Oatis, PT, PhD; Louise Thoma, PT, DPT, PhD; and Daniel White, PT, were among the authors of the guideline.

    The recommendations were divided into two broad areas: physical, psychosocial, and mind-body approaches; and pharmacologic management. Here are a few of the recommendations included in the guideline.

    Physical, Psychosocial, and Mind-Body

    • Exercise, self-management programs (strongly recommended for hip, knee, or hand OA).
    • Weight loss, tai chi (strongly recommended for hip or knee OA).
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, thermal interventions (conditionally recommended for hip, knee, or hand OA).

    Pharmacologic Management

    • Oral NSAIDs (strongly recommended for hip, knee, or hand OA).
    • Intraatricular glucocorticoid injections (strongly recommended for hip or knee OA).
    • Acetaminophen, Tramadol, Duloxetine (conditionally recommended for .hip, knee, or hand OA).

    The guideline also includes strong and conditional recommendations for approaches limited to a specific OA location, including balance exercises (conditionally recommended for knee or hip OA), yoga (conditionally recommended for knee OA), and topical NSAIDs (strongly recommended for knee OA).

    Approaches recommended against using

    As with the recommended-for approaches, the guideline contains a mix of strong and conditional recommendations against certain approaches, usually applicable to some but not all three OA locations. Among the approaches authors recommend against using:

    • Massage therapy, transcutaneous electrical stimulation, modified shoes, lateral and wedged insoles (conditionally recommended against for knee or hip OA).
    • Fish oil, vitamin D, glucosamine (strongly recommended against for knee, hip, or hand OA).
    • Platelet-rich plasma treatments, stem cell injections (strongly recommended against for hip or knee OA).

    Why it matters
    As the most common form of arthritis, OA is a leading cause of disability among older adults and a condition that can be present for decades. Authors view the guideline as a tool for pursuing a "comprehensive, multimodal approach … offered in the context of shared decision-making with patients to choose the safest and most effective treatment possible."

    More from the study
    Authors write that while "current evidence is insufficient to recommend specific exercise prescriptions," the evidence is strong that exercise can lessen pain and improve function. The guideline urges providers to provide exercise advice "that is as specific as possible" for the patient, and assert that "overall, most exercise programs are more effective if supervised, often by physical therapists and sometimes in a class setting."

    The "self-management programs" are described by authors as those that "use a multidisciplinary, group-based format combining sessions on skill-building … education about the disease and about medication effects and side effects, joint protection measures, and fitness goals and approaches."

    One of the more notable changes in the most recent version of the guideline was around the use of glucosamine, a popular supplement thought to improve joint health. While glucosamine was a conditionally recommended approach in the previous guideline, authors moved it to "strongly recommended against" status due to "a lack of efficacy and large placebo effects."

    Keep in mind …
    Authors point out that in addition to a lack of clarity as to what types and dosages of exercise were most beneficial for OA (and for which joints), the current guideline also was unable to assess factors such as optimal footwear types, broader outcomes such as falls prevention, and the "role of integrative medicine, including massage, herbal products, medical marijuana, and additional mind-body interventions."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

    PTJ: New CPG Supported by APTA Provides Guidance on PT Treatment of Individuals With Heart Failure

    In this review: Physical Therapist Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Individuals With Heart Failure
    (PTJ, January 23, 2020)

    The Message
    A new clinical practice guideline supported by APTA and developed by the Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Section of APTA includes nine evidence-based action statements for the evaluation and management of patients diagnosed with heart failure and two clinical algorithms to support clinical decision making. Physical therapy interventions can improve activity level, participation, and quality of life, as well as reduce hospital readmissions for individuals with heart failure, authors write, and PTs should "work collaboratively with other members of the health care team" to achieve these goals.

    The Study
    Authors developed the algorithms and action statements based on 127 systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and previously published CPGs that tested interventions used by physical therapists, reviewed randomized controlled trials, tested outcomes relevant for physical therapist practice, and included only patients who acquired heart failure as adults.

    A team of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Section members representing both educators and clinicians appraised the quality of CPGs using the Appraisal of Guidelines, Research and Evaluation (AGREE II) tool, systematic reviews using the Assessment of Multiple Systematic Review (AMSTAR) tool, and RCTs using the University of Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine critical appraisal tool. Members of the CPG’s Guideline Development Group formulated and graded nine key action statements, which were then reviewed by internal and external stakeholders for comment.

    Development of the CPG was supported through an APTA-sponsored program that assists APTA sections — in the case, the Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Section — with funding and tools for CPG activities related to drafting, appraisal, planning, and external review (for more detail on the program, visit APTA's CPG Development webpage).

    Nine broad action statements were recommended by the authors based on evidence strength identified as "strong" or "moderate." Each statement includes specific details on benefits, risks, benefit-harm assessment, role of patient preferences, and a summary of the supporting evidence. The recommendations for physical therapy prescriptions include specific parameters, which are detailed in the CPG.

    For all patients with heart failure:

    • PTs should advocate for a "culture of physical activity as an essential component of care in patients with stable heart failure." (Strong recommendation)
    • "Make appropriate nutrition referrals, perform medication reconciliation, and provide appropriate education on preventive self-care behaviors to reduce the risk of hospital readmissions." (Strong recommendation)

    For patients with stable, Class II to III heart failure as defined by the New York Heart Association:

    • PTs should prescribe aerobic exercise training. (Strong recommendation)

    For patients with stable, NYHA Class II to III heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, also known as HFrEF, PTs should prescribe:

    • Resistance training for the upper and lower body. (Strong recommendation)
    • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation. (Strong recommendation)
    • Inspiratory muscle training with a threshold (or similar) device (Strong recommendation)
    • High-intensity, interval-based exercise — HIIT — for patients without contraindications. (Moderate recommendation)

    For patients with stable, NYHA Class II to III HFrEF, PTs may prescribe:

    • Combined aerobic and resistance training. (Moderate recommendation)
    • Combined inspiratory muscle training and aerobic exercise training. (Moderate recommendation)

    Authors developed two separate algorithms for patients with heart failure: the first to help PTs determine whether a patient is stable enough to proceed with an intervention and recognize when a person's signs and symptoms may require emergency medical treatment, and the second to assist in identifying which of the CPG's action statements are "most appropriate for a particular patient based on participation, activity, endurance, and signs of exercise intolerance."

    Why it Matters
    Noting the increasing readmissions rate and rising health care costs associated with heart failure, authors hope the CPG will "provide physical therapists with evidence-based recommendations that assist in improving functional capacity and [health-related quality of life] and reducing hospital readmissions for individuals with HF."

    As "integral members of the interprofessional team assisting with early detection of HF exacerbation and directing medical follow-up," PTs are urged by the authors to "work within their health care systems to determine how these or similar algorithms for identification of HF exacerbation can be utilized within their specific contexts and patient care environments."

    More From the Study
    In addition to their recommendations, authors described a number of areas needing further research, including but not limited to associations for variations in outcomes; effectiveness of specific exercise options; and appropriate exercise, dosing, and parameters for patients in different care settings. Small sample sizes, strict patient selection criteria, lack of functional outcome measures, study in limited settings, and other factors in existing research limited findings and recommendations in some areas.

    Keep in Mind …
    As with most CPGs, authors caution therapists that the recommendations are directed at a patient population but can't "address each unique situation of an individual patient."

    Authors also point out that the second algorithm, developed to help determine which recommendations are most appropriate for a particular patient, is based on expert opinion. The Guideline Development Group notes that the available research "did not address specific examination-based criteria for when any of the interventions reviewed herein are appropriate."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

    Study: Home Health Physical Therapy Improves Abilities of Individuals With Dementia

    In this review: The Impact of Home Health Physical Therapy on Medicare Beneficiaries With a Primary Diagnosis of Dementia
    (Health Policy and Economics, January 2020)

    The Message
    Physical therapy delivered at home has a role to play in improving the lives of individuals with dementia, according to authors of a study that found any physical therapy increased the probability of improvement in activities of daily living — ADLs — by 15.2%. Although those probabilities improved in relation to the number of visits received, the greatest rate of increase in ADL function seemed to occur in patients who received between six and 13 visits.

    The Study
    Researchers analyzed CMS data drawn from the 2012 Outcome and Assessment Information Set and the Home Health Research Identifiable File, focusing on patients 66 and older who had a primary diagnosis of dementia and received in-home care. A total of 1,477 patients were included in the analysis.

    The study focused on whether patients with dementia improved ADL performance during the course of their care, and whether physical therapy visits could be correlated to increased chances of improvement. ADL items assessed included grooming, upper body dressing, lower body dressing, bathing, toilet transferring, toileting hygiene, transferring to bed or chair, ambulation, feeding and eating, the ability to prepare light meals, and the ability to use a phone.

    APTA members Cherie LeDoux, PT, DPT; Jason Falvey, PT, DPT, PhD; and Jennifer Stevens-Lapsley, PT, MPT, PhD, were among the authors of the study.


    • Patients who received no physical therapy had a 60% probability of ADL improvement; that probability jumped to 75% for patients receiving any physical therapy.
    • The probability of ADL improvement increased with the number of physical therapy visits received, with improvement probability rising to 80.3% for patients receiving six to 13 visits, and to 88.9% for patients who received 14 or more visits.
    • Among all 1,477 patients, 62% received at least one physical therapy visit, with an overall median of four physical therapy visits received.
    • Among the patients who received physical therapy, 52% received between six and 13 visits, 41.3% received one to five visits, and 6.7% received 14 or more visits.
    • Authors believe the most significant improvement rates were associated with the six to 13-visit range, writing that the improvement rates associated with 14 visits and more as statistically insignificant.

    Why It Matters
    The authors write that their study comes when changes to home health payment "may produce downward pressure on home health rehabilitation services … generally discouraging therapy use and potentially increasing avoidable functional decline for [persons with dementia]." Their findings, they assert, help to establish the role of physical therapy in a provider environment that "incentivizes functional improvement."

    "In this study, skilled PT utilization is significantly associated with greater mobility and ADL function in individuals with a primary diagnosis of dementia," the authors write, adding that "our results suggest patients [with dementia] should receive a PT evaluation at minimum as a standard of care."

    Keep in Mind …
    Authors cite limitations in their study, including an inability to correct for possible variation in treatment allocation such as patient participation levels and clinician bias. The study also has a relatively small sample size and did not account for variations in dementia types among patient data analyzed.

    [Editor's note: author Jason Falvey was awarded a 2019 Foundation for Physical Therapy Health Services Research Pipeline Grant. Author Stevens-Lapsley has also received Foundation funding, and author LeDoux is the recipient of a 2019 Foundation Promotion of Doctoral Studies grant.]

    Paul Rockar Named Foundation President

    The Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (FPTR) has named former APTA President Paul Rockar Jr., PT, DPT, MS, as its president. Rockar, who served as a foundation trustee for three years prior, assumed his new role on January 1, 2020.

    Rockar is a well-known figure in the physical therapy profession, having served as a member of the APTA Board of Directors, as its vice president, and finally, as president of the organization from 2012 to 2015. Rockar is the former CEO of the Centers for Rehab Services.

    APTA and the foundation have a more than 40-year relationship focused on promoting physical therapy research. As a designated Pinnacle Partner of the foundation, APTA invested over $500,000 to support foundation initiatives including scholarships and fellowships in 2019.

    In his role as president, Rockar will work alongside his fellow Board of Trustees members to continue the foundation’s 2019-2022 strategic plan.

    “I am honored to have been chosen by my fellow trustees to lead FPTR at a time when research is so important to the profession,” said Rockar. “I look forward to collaborating with our partners and like-minded supporters — including APTA — to support research that leads to the best clinical guidelines and excellent patient care.”

    Rockar succeeds Edelle Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA, who concluded her term at the end of 2019.

    Separate Studies, Similar Conclusions: Bundling for Knee, Hip Replacement Seems to be Working

    Has all the bundling been worth it? Two new studies of bundled care models used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) conclude that, at least for lower extremity joint replacement (LEJR), the answer is yes. Taken as a whole, the studies make the case that while the savings achieved through some bundled care models may not be dramatic, they do exist — and aren't associated with a drop in quality.

    The studies, published in Health Affairs, take different approaches to answering questions about the effectiveness of bundling programs mostly associated with CMS' voluntary Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) initiative: one was a systematic review that analyzed existing research (abstract only available for free) on the programs, while the other focused on data from hospitals that did and did not participate in BCPI (abstract only available for free) over a three-year period. Their conclusions, however, had much in common.

    The bottom line, according to both studies, is that bundled care models for LEJR seem to be lowering overall costs without sacrificing quality.

    The systematic review revealed that most studies that evaluated spending recorded decreases in overall postacute care spending of between $591 and $1,960, while the hospital data researchers identified an average 1.6% decrease in episode spending for LEJR — about $377 per patient. At the same time, neither study uncovered evidence of reduced quality outcomes, with the hospital study finding variances between BPCI and non-BPCI care for LEJR of less than 2%. The systematic review found that, if anything, research indicates that bundled care tends to lead to lower rates of hospital readmission, a datapoint strongly associated with quality.

    The studies did have some differences. The hospital data researchers focused solely on LEJR data, which they describe as the most common procedure associated with BPCI, while the systematic review included a bundled care model for a range of procedures. In the end, authors of the systematic review found that bundled payment "has yet to demonstrate [benefits similar to those associated with LEJR bundling] for other clinical episodes," including spinal fusion, shoulder arthroplasty, and cardiac surgery. Another difference between the studies: The systematic review included data from CMS' Comprehensive Care Joint Replacement (CJR) model mandated for use in some 450 facilities across the country; the hospital data review excluded CJR facilities.

    [Editor's note: APTA offers multiple resources on bundling, including separate webpages devoted to BPCI Advanced participation and the CJR.]

    Each study offered its own takeaways. The systematic review emphasized the effectiveness of bundling for LEJR and suggested that CMS "scale up” its bundling programs in those areas, while cautioning that more work needs to be done on bundling programs for other procedures, especially those that tend to be associated with higher baseline patient complexity. The hospital data study, focused on LEJR only, found that most of the savings associated with bundling came from early adopters (which maintained their savings over time), and less so from facilities that joined later, which "may have been less able to influence episode spending." That study also acknowledged that while voluntary bundling models may be subject to cherry-picking of less complex patients, data revealed that "it does not fully account for associated savings."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

    New APTA-Supported CPG Looks at Best Ways to Improve Walking Speed, Distance for Individuals After Stroke, Brain Injury, and Incomplete SCI

    In this review: Clinical Practice Guideline to Improve Locomotor Function Following Chronic Stroke, Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury, and Brain Injury
    (Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, January, 2020)

    The message
    A new clinical practice guideline (CPG) supported by APTA and developed by the APTA Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy concludes that when it comes to working with individuals who experienced an acute-onset central nervous system (CNS) injury 6 months ago or more, aerobic walking training and virtual reality (VR) treadmill training are the interventions most strongly tied to improvements in walking distance and speed. Other interventions such as strength training, circuit training, and cycling training also may be considered, authors write, but providers should avoid robotic-assisted walking training, body-weight supported treadmill training, and sitting/standing balance that doesn't employ augmented visual inputs.

    The study
    The final recommendations in the CPG are the result of an extensive process that began with a scan of nearly 4,000 research abstracts and subsequent full-text review of 234 articles, further narrowed to 111 randomized controlled trials (RCTs), all focused on interventions related to CNS injuries, with outcome data that included measures of walking distance and speed. CPG panelists evaluated the data and developed recommendations, which were informed by data on patient preferences and submitted for expert and stakeholder review.

    Development of the CPG was supported through an APTA-sponsored program that assists APTA sections — in the case, the Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy — in the development stages such as drafting, appraisal, planning, and external review (for more detail on the program, visit APTA's CPG Development webpage).


    • Moderate- to high-intensity (60%-80% of heart rate reserve or up to 85% of heart rate maximum) walking training was associated with the strongest evidence for improvements in walking speed and distance.
    • Walking training using VR also fared well, due in part to the ability of a VR treadmill system to allow "safe practice of challenging walking activities," something that's hard to do in a more traditional hospital or clinic setting.
    • Strength training, while not included among the interventions that should be performed, was designated as an intervention that may be considered. Authors cite inconsistent evidence on the connection between strength training and improved walking speed and distance, but they acknowledge potential benefits.
    • Also among the list of interventions that "may be considered": circuit training, as well as cycling training. In both cases, authors cite a paucity of evidence related to how the interventions affect walking speed and distance. They note that these interventions may be revisited during a future reevaluation of the CPG.
    • Body-weight supported treadmill training was labeled as an intervention that should not be performed in order to increase walking speed and distance, with authors finding little evidence supporting the approach, which is often associated with a greater cost. However, they write, the individuals included in the studies reviewed for the CPT were able to ambulate over ground without the use of a body-weight support device, and "different results may occur in those who are nonambulatory or unable to ambulate without the use of [body-weight support]."
    • Both static and dynamic (nonwalking) balance training and robotic-assisted walking training were also characterized as interventions that should not be performed. Authors acknowledge the ways that postural stability and balance are associated with fall risk and reduced participation, but they were unable to find sufficient evidence to support these particular interventions as effective in increasing walking speed and distance (although static and dynamic balance training with VR fared a bit better). As for robotic-assisted walking training, CPG authors note that while ineffective for individuals with CNS who were already ambulatory, "this recommendation … may not apply to nonambulatory individuals or those who require robotic assistance to ambulate."

    Why it matters
    Authors note that "the implementation of evidence-based interventions in the field of rehabilitation has been a challenge," and they believe that the new CPG offers a real opportunity for clinicians to "integrate available research into their practice patterns." Further, they believe that the CPG has arrived at an important moment in the evolution of health care, with its greater emphasis on evidence for the cost-effectiveness and outcomes of various interventions.

    More from the study
    The CPG also offers tips for clinicians to implement its recommendations, including acquiring equipment to help providers monitor vital signs, implementing "automatic prompts in electronic medical records that will facilitate obtaining orders to attempt higher-intensity training strategies," providing training sessions for clinicians, establishing organizational policies to promote use and documentation of the recommended interventions, and simply keeping a few copies of the study on hand for easy reference.

    Keep in mind …
    Authors acknowledged that the CPG has a few limitations. While the review of RCTs only is a strength, they write, some of those studies involved small sample sizes, and many lacked details on intervention dosage. Additionally, the CPG does not fully address the potential costs associated with its recommendations — specifically VR — which could impact a clinic's ability to implement a particular intervention. Authors also acknowledge that walking speed and distance are not the only important outcomes related to mobility among individuals with CNS injury, and that other factors such as dynamic stability while walking, peak walking capacity, and community mobility may be incorporated in an assessment of walking function.

    APTA's TKA Guidelines: Your Comments Needed by January 3

    APTA is developing a new clinical practice guideline (CPG) on total knee arthroplasty (TKA) and your help is needed.

    The CPG is now in the public review phase of its development, and APTA is asking for public comment. But hurry—deadline for comments is January 3, 2020.

    Funded entirely by APTA, the draft CPG covers topics ranging from preoperative exercise to physical therapy discharge planning and assessment of outcomes. The resource was developed by a volunteer development group that included member expert PTs from many of the Academies, an orthopedic surgeon, a nurse, and a consumer, and was based on systematic reviews of current scientific and clinical information related to the PT management of TKA.

    APTA has created a webpage that links to the CPG and allows visitors to provide comments.

    Foundation Grants Focus on ICU Survivors, Exercise Effects on Diabetes, Blood Flow Restriction, and More

    An APTA-sponsored $40,000 Health Services Research Pipeline grant will support a project aimed at conducting the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of variability in rehabilitation delivery to older intensive care unit (ICU) survivors. The award was among several Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (Foundation) grants and scholarship awards totaling more than $600,000 in 2019.

    Grant recipient Jason Falvey, DPT, PhD, will investigate both in-home and community- based rehabilitation of the older ICU survivor population, including an exploration of the impact rehabilitation may have on functional outcomes and hospital readmissions. Falvey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Medicine.

    APTA is the Foundation's Pinnacle Partner in Research and has been a leading donor in funding major research initiatives such as the Center on Health Services Training and Research (CoHSTAR), investing in research priorities to strengthen the physical therapy profession, and supporting the Foundation's scholarship program each year.

    In addition, the Foundation expanded its portfolio of grant and scholarship opportunities in 2019 with the launch of the Goergeny High-Impact Research Grant, an offering focused on the role of physical therapy in the prevention of secondary health conditions, body structures and functions, activity limitations, or participation restrictions. The first investigator to receive the Goergeny award is Smita Rao, PT, PhD, of New York University, who will receive $240,000 over the next 2 years for a study that will investigate the effects of exercise on hyaluronan accumulation in people with type 2 diabetes.

    Other grant and scholarship announcements from the Foundation:

    Saurabh Mehta, PT, MSc, PhD, the recipient of the $40,000 VCU-Marquette Challenge Research Grant, will examine the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary outcomes of an evidence-based program (developed by physical therapists in Denmark) for people with knee osteoarthritis. This grant is funded in part by APTA's Supporting the Professions Fund.

    Aliza Rudavsky, PT, DPT, PhD, was awarded the $40,000 Pelvic Health Research Grant. The goal for her project, titled “Concurrent Validity of Novel Transabdominal Pelvic Floor Ultrasound During Glottis Tasks,” is to test a new method of measuring transabdominal ultrasound imaging and comparing it with the gold standard transperineal method. This award is supported by the APTA Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy.

    Cristine Agresta, PT, MPT, PhD, was named recipient the $100,000 Magistro Family Foundation Research Grant in support of a project that will assess the effectiveness of personalized blood flow restriction against current standard rehabilitation procedures after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery. This project is funded by the Foundation's Magistro Family Endowment Fund and Legacy Research Fund.

    Alyssa LeForme Fiss, PT, MPT, PhD, who was awarded the $40,000 Pediatric Research Grant, will conduct research to determine the effects of adaptive behavior physical therapist intervention delivered in addition to traditional physical or occupational therapist services for families with infants diagnosed with or at high risk for cerebral palsy. This grant is supported by the Pediatric Research Fund and the APTA Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy.

    “FPTR grants help strengthen the profession and elevate research in physical therapy,” said Foundation Board of Trustees President Edelle Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA, in a Foundation news release. “With the help of our community of donors, we continue to fund top researchers and the most promising science in the field of physical therapy. Each project has the potential to improve outcomes for the patients we serve as physical therapists.”

    Study: Among Individuals Who Qualify for Medicare Due to Disability, Opioid Overdose Deaths Nearly 5 Times Higher Than Total US Rate

    In this review: Association of Disability With Mortality From Opioid Overdose Among US Medicare
    (JAMA Network Open, November 15, 2019)

    The message
    While Medicare beneficiaries who qualify for Medicare because of disability account for one quarter of all deaths from prescription opioid overdose annually, not much research has focused on the relationship between various combinations of conditions in this population and their correlations to overdose mortality. It's a connection that authors of a recent study believe is essential to developing successful evidence-based interventions addressing Medicare enrollees with disabilities.

    The study
    Authors examined Medicare data linked to the National Death Index for a random sample of 20% of Medicare enrollees between the ages of 21 and 100 during the time period from 2012 to 2016. They calculated the rate of opioid overdose deaths for the entire Medicare population as well as for individuals with any of 55 chronic or potentially disabling conditions contained within the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Chronic Disease Data Warehouse.

    Opioid overdose deaths were identified by codes for opium, heroin, natural or semisynthetic opioids, methadone, synthetic opioids other than methadone, or other and unspecified narcotics prescribed for their underlying conditions.


    • Enrollees younger than age 65 who qualify for Medicare due to disability comprise approximately 15% of the overall Medicare population. However, they account for 81% of opioid overdose deaths among Medicare beneficiaries overall.
    • While 32% of enrollees who are qualified for disability had at least 2 major condition categories, these individuals accounted for 78% of all opioid overdose deaths among Medicare beneficiaries.
    • Opioid overdose mortality in the disability group increased from 57.4 per 100,000 in 2012 to 77.6 per 100,000 in 2016.
    • Among beneficiaries who qualified for Medicare because of disability, opioid overdose deaths were highest for those aged 51–64. In addition, those who were male and white, had higher income, had Medicare Part D coverage, had been enrolled under disability for less than 15 years, and who lived in metropolitan areas had higher rates of opioid overdose death.
    • Of the disabling conditions examined, substance abuse, psychiatric diseases, and chronic pain were significantly associated with higher rate of opioid overdose deaths. The opioid overdose mortality rate among those with all 3 conditions was 363.7 per 100,000—23.4 times higher than for those with no disabling conditions. Chronic kidney disease, pressure and chronic ulcers, and hepatitis also were associated with a higher likelihood over opioid overdose death.
    • The opioid overdose mortality rate among those who qualify for Medicare due to disability is nearly 5 times higher than that of the general United States population.

    Why it matters
    Subgroups of Medicare beneficiaries "present different risk profiles for opioid overdose death, authors say. "Patients qualifying for Medicare disability have the highest rates of opioid use compared with older Medicare beneficiaries and commercial insurance beneficiaries." Future studies can help develop targeted interventions to decrease opioid overdose deaths in high-risk populations.

    More from the study
    Researchers were surprised to see a positive association between high income and opioid overdose death, as one previous study found that lower-income individuals "were more likely to misuse opioids and had higher rates of opioid use disorder than the general US population" and another showed that higher-income Medicare enrollees had lower rates of long-term opioid prescriptions.

    Authors suggest that future research should examine these associations by opioid type.

    Keep in mind…
    Authors note that "the quality and accuracy of death certificate data associated with overdose varies across states." Likewise, the validity of medical conditions in claims data varies. From the available data, researchers could not distinguish between accidental, suicide, or homicide deaths or whether they occurred in the inpatient or outpatient setting.

    In addition, because they analyzed data only from enrollees with 2 years of continuous enrollment with fee-for-service coverage, the results "may not be generalizable to health maintenance organization populations."

    Authors also did not examine "competing causes of death" or the association of drug interactions or contaminated street drugs with opioid overdose death. They suggest future research on overdose deaths due to different types of opioids.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

    Study: For Children With Autism, Yoga Improves Motor Skills, May Buffer 'Cascading' Effects

    In this review: Creative Yoga Intervention Improves Motor and Imitation Skills of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder
    (PTJ, November 2019 )

    The message
    There's mounting evidence that motor impairments are particularly prevalent among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but research on how to address these impairments is scant. Authors of a new study believe they may have hit upon an approach: physical therapist-led "creative yoga," which they say improved both gross motor skills and the ability to imitate movement patterns among children with ASD. Those gains, they believe, could play a role in improving social communication and behavioral abilities.

    The study
    Researchers divided 24 children with ASD, ages 5 to 13, into 2 groups: the first group received an 8-week "academic intervention" that focused on reading, arts, crafts, and other "sedentary activities usually practiced within school settings"; the second group participated in an 8-week yoga intervention, led by a physical therapist (PT), that "was made fun and creative through the use of songs, stories, games, and props." The children were assessed for motor skills using the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Performance-2nd Edition (BOT-2) at baseline and after completion of the programs, and tested for imitation skills at 3 points (baseline, midpoint, completion) using a researcher-created instrument. Sessions were conducted 4 times a week for 8 weeks, divided into 2 expert-led sessions lasting 40 to 45 minutes per week and 2 parent-led sessions lasting 20 to 25 minutes per week.

    Participants included in the study had a confirmed ASD diagnosis and showed social communication delays. All scored at average or below on the BOT-2 at baseline, and the groups were matched for baseline mobility scores as well as demographic, IQ, and other characteristics.

    APTA members Maninderjit Kaur, PT, and Anjana Bhat, PT, coauthored the study.


    • After 8 weeks, the yoga group improved subtest scores for gross motor performance and bilateral coordination, whereas the academic group showed no statistically significant improvements in these areas.
    • The academic group improved scores related to fine motor precision and integration, but not so the yoga group, which recorded no statistically relevant changes.
    • Imitation skills improved for both groups, but at different points: the yoga group began showing improvements in imitation skills by the midpoint assessment, while the academic group's improvements didn't register significant change until the last assessment.
    • Among child-specific factors such as age, autism severity, and IQ, the only element that seemed to correlate to improvement in scores was IQ: in the academic group, children with higher IQs tended to achieve larger individual gains in imitation skills, while in the yoga program, children with lower IQs were the cohort that achieved larger individual gains in imitation (specifically, pose imitation).

    Why it matters
    A growing body of evidence suggests that children with ASD also tend to experience motor impairments of balance, postural control, gait, and coordination, as well as worse dexterity skills than do children with typical development (TD). In fact, authors write, researchers have estimated that children with ASD typically display motor development that is consistent with children half their age. Deficits in the ability to imitate demonstrated behaviors or movements are also associated with ASD.

    The concern, according to authors, is the possibility that these impairments could have "cascading effects on the social, communication, and cognitive development of children with ASD."

    "Given the evidence for motor impairments and their broader impact on social communication development," authors write, "there is a clear need to devise interventions that could offer opportunities to improve both motor skills and their use in developing social communication skills in children with ASD."

    More from the study
    Authors were surprised that the yoga group didn't report any improvements in balance, but they speculate that the unchanged BOT-2 scores may be related to the test's reliance on a mix of static and movement-based activities, as opposed to the yoga classes' focus solely on static balance. Additionally, they write, the BOT-2's balance subtest includes assessments with and without visual input, whereas the yoga classes consistently used visual input to help children hold poses.

    As for the academic group's improvements in fine motor skills, the effect sizes were relatively small, but researchers believe that may be due to the fact that most of the children were already engaged in similar activities in their school settings, creating a "smaller scope for improvement."

    Keep in mind…
    The study population was small and heterogenous, and the training duration was relatively short. Additionally, researchers weren't able to assess the long-term effects of the classes.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.