Although muscular dystrophy causes muscle weakness and muscle loss, the role of exercise in the management of this disease remains controversial.
The purpose of this systematic review is to evaluate the role of exercise interventions on muscle strength in patients with muscular dystrophy.
We performed systematic electronic searches in Medline, Embase, Web of Science, Scopus and Pedro as well as a list of reference literature. We included trials assessing muscle exercise in patients with muscular dystrophy. Two reviewers independently abstracted data and appraised risk of bias.
We identified five small (two controlled and three randomized clinical) trials comprising 242 patients and two ongoing randomized controlled trials. We were able to perform two meta-analyses. We found an absence of evidence for a difference in muscle strength (MD 4.18, 95% CIs - 2.03 to 10.39; p = 0.91) and in endurance (MD −0.53, 95% CIs –1.11 to 0.05; p = 0.26). In both, the direction of effects favored muscle exercise.
The first included trial about the efficacy of muscular exercise was published in 1978. Even though some benefits of muscle exercise were consistently reported across studies, the benefits might be due to the small size of studies and other biases. Detrimental effects are still possible. After several decades of research, doctors cannot give advice and patients are, thus, denied basic information. A multi-center randomized trial investigating the strength of muscles, fatigue, and functional limitations is needed.