Exercise as a treatment for patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease

project manager


phd fellow

About the project

The purpose of the study is to investigate whether exercise can be an effective treatment for patients with spondyloarthritis (SpA).

The recommended treatment for patients with SpA is a combination of medication and exercise. It has been traditional to recommend gentle exercise with an emphasis on joint mobility, with a view to not increasing disease activity, pain and fatigue. However, research has now shown that SpA can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is thought to be due to both an increased degree of inflammation in the body and an increased prevalence of traditional risk factors. In healthy adults and other patient groups, exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on both inflammation and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This has not been studied in patients with SpA. There is a demand for studies that investigate the effect of exercise on inflammation in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases. In addition, we have conducted a pilot study that showed promising results in relation to both disease activity and risk factors for cardiovascular health.

The purpose of the ESpA study is to investigate the effect of fitness and strength training on disease activity and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in patients with SpA. The results will provide new knowledge about exercise as a treatment intervention to reduce disease activity and risk of cardiovascular disease in this patient group.

Who can participate?

You can participate in the study if you have SpA, are between 18 and 70 years old and currently suffering from the disease. You cannot have exercised regularly (>1 time of 60 min per week) muscle strength and/or cardio training during the last six months. Even if you have practiced flexibility training or participated in pool training regularly during this period, you can participate in the study. If you have any diseases where there are contraindications to high-intensity exercise, you cannot participate in the study.

It is no longer possible to participate in the study as it has been completed.

Project arrangement

At the beginning of the study (test 1), after 3 months (test 2) and 6 months follow-up (test 3):

  • Cardiac examination, including measurement of blood pressure, height, weight and waist circumference, measurement of body composition using a scan test (DXA scan), and ECG examination (electrodes are attached to the chest to measure the heart's electrical activity).
  • Blood samples that will be analyzed for both markers of disease activity and risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • Measurement of the pressure in the arterial wall in the wrist, groin and neck.
  • Measurements of blood flow in both index fingers before, during and after 5 minutes of clamping the arm's artery using a blood pressure cuff. The test is performed using a cap that is slipped onto the index finger and provides a measure of the stiffness of the arterial wall, an early sign of atherosclerosis.
  • Ultrasound examination of the blood vessels on the neck
  • Physical fitness assessment, including a maximum walking test on a treadmill, measurement of muscle strength and flexibility.
  • Questionnaire on health complaints, physical function, fatigue, sleep, general health, self-reported physical fitness and physical activity level.  
  • MRI examination of the back and pelvic joints. This involves participants lying still for up to 30 minutes.


If you are selected by lottery to join the training group, you will also be offered an individually tailored training program supervised by a physiotherapist. The training will consist of cardio (40 minutes) and strength training (20 minutes). The goal is for you to participate in supervised training with a physiotherapist two days a week, and to complete one day a week of self-training.


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