OBJECTIVES--To determine if increasing physical activity is protective of diaphysial (cortical) bone mass METHODS--Fifteen patients attending two rheumatology clinics who had developed seropositive or classical rheumatoid arthritis up to 26 months previously were studied prospectively for two to three years. Rates of loss (or gain) in bone mass in the radial diaphysis and the trabecular bone of the distal radius were measured by quantitative computed tomography, and in the spine by dual photon absorptiometry. Physical activity was assessed by the Framingham physical activity index. Disease activity was followed at three-monthly clinic visits at which the haemoglobin, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and platelet count were measured. The urinary hydroxyproline to creatinine ratio and plasma osteocalcin were measured at the beginning and end of the observation period. RESULTS--Eleven patients required treatment with disease modifying drugs but none was given corticosteroids. Those whose physical activity did not improve lost radial diaphysial bone at about 4% annually. There was, however, a statistically significant inverse relation, accounting for 48.5% of the variance, between bone loss at this site and improvement in physical activity as assessed by the Framingham index. The other two sites showed much weaker associations. Adjusting for indices of disease activity hardly affected the first relation. Three biochemical indices related to bone turnover showed weak tendencies to decrease with increasing physical activity. CONCLUSIONS--Peripheral cortical bone, distant from inflamed joints, is conserved more successfully in patients who achieve higher levels of physical rehabilitation. This may have implications for avoiding long bone fractures later in the disease.
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