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In people with rheumatic and/or musculoskeletal diseases, wearable activity trackers increase activity

Davergne T, Pallot A, Dechartres A, et al. Use of Wearable Activity Trackers to Improve Physical Activity Behavior in Patients With Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2019;71:758-67.

Review question

In people who have rheumatic and/or musculoskeletal diseases, do wearable activity trackers increase activity and improve symptoms?


Physical activity has positive effects on health and wellness and reduces risk for mortality. People with rheumatic and/or musculoskeletal diseases are often less physically active.

It is uncertain whether wearable activity trackers monitored by users can increase physical activity and improve symptoms in people with rheumatic and/or musculoskeletal diseases.

How the review was done

The researchers did a systematic review, searching for studies that were published in English from 2000 to May 2018. They found 15 randomized controlled studies with 1,393 people.

The key features of the studies were:

  • the average age was 56 years and most people were women;
  • people had osteoarthritis, low-back pain, or chronic inflammatory rheumatic disease;
  • wearable activity trackers tracked the wearers’ movements and/or biometric data, had the objective of increasing physical activity, and were worn on wrists or waists;
  • wearable activity trackers were compared with other interventions, education, or usual care; and
  • studies continued for 4 weeks to 1 year.

What the researchers found

Most people were very good at using the wearable activity trackers as instructed during the studies (e.g., people wore wrist activity trackers 93% of the time for 10 weeks).

Compared with control, wearable activity trackers:

  • increased the number of daily steps people took;
  • increased the amount of time people spent doing moderate to vigorous activity; and
  • did not affect pain, disability, functioning, quality of life, or fatigue.


In people with rheumatic and/or musculoskeletal diseases, wearable activity trackers increase physical activity.

Effects of wearable activity trackers vs control in people with rheumatic and/or musculoskeletal diseases*


Number of studies (number of people)

Effect of wearable activity trackers

Daily steps

7 studies (463 people)

Activity trackers increased the number of daily steps by a large amount (1,520 more steps per day than the control group).†

Moderate to vigorous physical activity

3 studies (117 people)

Activity trackers increased the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity by a small amount (16 more minutes per day than the control group).

*Only outcomes that were affected by wearable activity trackers are reported here.

†Amount of improvement with exercise compared with other exercise or usual care is based on standardized mean differences (SMDs), where SMD < 0.50 = small improvement; SMD 0.50 to 0.79 = moderate improvement; SMD ≥ 0.80 = large improvement.


Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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