Exploring the effects of a combined exercise programme on pain and fatigue outcomes in people with systemic sclerosis: study protocol for a large European multi-centre randomised controlled trial
Mitropoulos A., Boström C., Mattsson M., Kouidi E., Dimitroulas T., Liem SIE., Vlieland TPMV., de Vries-Bouwstra JK., Jacobsen S., Cuomo G., Akil M., Klonizakis M.
Background: Pain, related to Raynaud’s phenomenon or digital ulceration, has been identified as very prevalent and debilitating symptoms of systemic sclerosis (SSc), both significantly affecting patients’ quality of life (QoL). Pharmacological therapeutic strategies were found not to be sufficiently effective in the management of SSc-induced pain and fatigue, and evidence for exercise is scarce. As yet, the effects of a long-term, tailored exercise programme on pain and fatigue in patients with SSc have not been explored. In addition to pain and fatigue, this study aims to evaluate the effects of exercise on QoL, physical fitness, functional capacity, and vascular structure in people with SSc (PwSSc). Methods: This will be a multicentre (n = 6) randomised controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of a previously established, supervised 12-week combined exercise programme on pain and fatigue as compared to no exercise in PwSSc. The study will recruit 180 patients with SSc that will be allocated randomly to two groups. Group A will perform the exercise programme parallel to standard usual care and group B will receive usual care alone. Patients in the exercise group will undertake two, 45-min sessions each week consisting of 30-min high-intensity interval training (HIIT) (30-s 100% peak power output/30-s passive recovery) on an arm crank ergometer and 15 min of upper body circuit resistance training. Patients will be assessed before as well as at 3 and 6 months following randomisation. Primary outcomes of the study will be pain and fatigue assessed via questionnaires. Secondary outcomes include quality of life, structure of digital microvasculature, body composition, physical fitness, and functional capacity. Discussion: Data from this multi-centre research clinical trial will primarily be used to establish the effectiveness of a combined exercise protocol to improve pain and fatigue in SSc. In parallel, this study will be the first to explore the effects of long-term exercise on potential microvascular alterations assessed via NVC. Overall, this study will provide sufficient data to inform current clinical practice guidelines and may lead to an improvement of QoL for patients with SSc. Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT05234671. Registered on 14 January 2022.