The study in people with progressive MS, involving the University of Exeter Medical School and led by the University of Plymouth, also showed that the intervention appeared cost-effective, leading researchers to conclude that it could be routinely implemented within MS care throughout the UK. The study was published in The Lancet Neurology.
Around 110,000 people in the UK have MS, a lifelong condition that affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and often leads to increasing disability. Often spending their time sitting, people with MS can develop muscle weakness from disuse, pain, constipation, loss of movement at joints and pressure ulcers.
The study, called Standing Up in Multiple Sclerosis (SUMS), was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Research for Patient Benefit Programme, and sponsored by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.
The Oswestry standing frame is designed to help slow the development of these problems in people in the more advanced stages of the condition, by enabling them to regularly stand and carry out strengthening and balance exercises in a supported position, with the help of a friend or family member if needed.
Dr Annie Hawton, Senior Research Fellow in Health Economics, said: “Our analyses suggest that the standing frame intervention costs approximately £14,700 per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY). This is below the of £20,000–£30,000 per QALY threshold set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), for interventions to be recommended for funding on the NHS.
“This indicates that providing standing frames to people with progressive MS is likely to be a ‘cost-effective’ treatment strategy”.
Results showed that, on average, people who used the standing frame scored more highly on an assessment of their movement and balance function, as objectively assessed by a physiotherapist.
On average the intervention costs around £800, so the use of the standing frame also appeared to be cost-effective according to the criteria set out by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). This is an important factor when considering new interventions for use in the NHS.
Participants assigned to the standing frame also reported experiencing improvements in quality of life. In particular, they highlighted reduced stiffness in their legs, improvements to balance and mobility, and improved bladder and bowel control.
Lead author of the study, Jenny Freeman, Professor of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation at the University of Plymouth, said: “Mobility is a major concern for people with MS – not just in terms of standing and walking, but also, for example, moving about in bed. Nearly 25% of people with MS eventually become wheelchair dependent. However, very little research had previously taken place into how to preserve and improve mobility in people with more severe disability, or how effective the standing frame was for this patient group.
“This is one of the first physiotherapy interventions proven to be effective in this group of people and, as it was tested within an NHS context, it’s something that could be rolled out almost straight away.”