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Efficacy and safety of non-pharmacological and non-biological interventions: a systematic literature review informing the 2022 update of the ASAS/EULAR recommendations for the management of axial spondyloarthritis


Objective To update the evidence of non-biological treatments for axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), as a basis for the 2022 Assessment of SpondyloArthritis international Society-European Alliance of Associations for Rheumatology (ASAS-EULAR) recommendations for the management of axSpA.

Methods A systematic literature review (2016–2021) on efficacy and safety of non-pharmacological and non-biological pharmacological treatments was performed, up to 1 January 2022. The research question was formulated according to the PICO format: Population: adult patients with r-axSpA and nr-axSpA; Intervention: non-pharmacological and non-biological pharmacological treatments; Comparator: active comparator or placebo; Outcomes: all relevant efficacy and safety outcomes. Type of studies included were: randomised controlled trials (RCTs), observational studies (for efficacy of non-pharmacological treatments, and safety), qualitative studies. Cohen’s effect size (ES) was calculated for non-pharmacological and risk ratio (RR) for pharmacological treatments.

Results Of 107 publications included, 63 addressed non-pharmacological interventions, including education (n=8) and exercise (n=20). The ES for education on disease activity, function, mobility was small to moderate (eg. Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Index (BASDAI), ES: 0.06–0.59). Exercise had moderate to high ES on these outcomes (eg. BASDAI, ES: 0.14–1.43). Six RCTs on targeted synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) showed efficacy of tofacitinib, upadacitinib and filgotinib (phase 2 only) in r-axSpA (range RR vs placebo for ASAS20: 1.91–3.10), while apremilast and nilotinib were not efficacious. Studies on conventional synthetic DMARDs (n=3), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, n=8) and other drugs (n=12) did not provide new evidence on efficacy/safety (efficacy of NSAIDs confirmed; limited efficacy of short-term glucocorticoids in one RCT).

Conclusions Education, exercise and NSAIDs confirmed to be efficacious in axSpA. JAKi were proved efficacious in r-axSpA.

  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal

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