The effects of upper and lower limb exercise on the microvascular reactivity in limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis patients

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Background: Aerobic exercise in general and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) specifically is known to improve vascular function in a range of clinical conditions. HIIT in particular has demonstrated improvements in clinical outcomes, in conditions that have a strong macroangiopathic component. Nevertheless, the effect of HIIT on microcirculation in systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients is yet to be investigated. Therefore, the purpose of the study was to compare the effects of two HIIT protocols (cycle and arm cranking) on the microcirculation of the digital area in SSc patients. Methods: Thirty-four limited cutaneous SSc patients (65.3 ± 11.6 years old) were randomly allocated in three groups (cycling, arm cranking and control group). The exercise groups underwent a 12- week exercise program twice per week. All patients performed the baseline and post-exercise intervention measurements where physical fitness, functional ability, transcutaneous oxygen tension (ΔTcpO2), body composition and quality of life were assessed. Endothelial-dependent as well as -independent vasodilation were assessed in the middle and index fingers using LDF and incremental doses of acetylcholine (ACh) and sodium nitroprusside (SNP). Cutaneous flux data were expressed as cutaneous vascular conductance (CVC). Results: Peak oxygen uptake increased in both exercise groups (p < 0.01, d = 1.36). ΔTcpO2 demonstrated an increase in the arm-cranking group only, with a large effect, but not found statistically significant,(p = 0.59, d = 0.93). Endothelial-dependent vasodilation improvement was greater in the arm-cranking (p < 0.05, d = 1.07) in comparison to other groups. Both exercise groups improved life satisfaction (p < 0.001) as well as reduced discomfort and pain due to Raynaud's phenomenon (p < 0.05). Arm cranking seems to be the preferred mode of exercise for study participants as compared to cycling (p < 0.05). No changes were observed in the body composition or the functional ability in both exercise groups. Conclusions: Our results suggest that arm cranking has the potential to improve the microvascular endothelial function in SSc patients. Also notably, our recommended training dose (e.g., a 12-week HIIT program, twice per week), appeared to be sufficient and tolerable for this population. Future research should focus on exploring the feasibility of a combined exercise such as aerobic and resistance training by assessing individual's experience and the quality of life in SSc patients.




Mitropoulos, A., Gumber, A., Crank, H., Akil, M., & Klonizakis, M. (2018). The effects of upper and lower limb exercise on the microvascular reactivity in limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis patients. Arthritis Research and Therapy, 20(1).

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