Osteoarthritis (OA) is a pain, literally. According to the CDC, 32.5 million U.S. adults suffer from OA: the most common form of arthritis. Conventional treatments for OA include meeting a physical therapist who prescribes joint-friendly exercises, more physical activity overall, weight control (loss), and medications. Many OA patients use over-the-counter pain meds to manage OA pain. Prescription drugs used for OA, especially opioids, are fast-acting and effective but can lead to addiction. Sweden-based Joint Academy developed a digital app specifically to manage OA pain of the hip and knee. Multiple peer-reviewed studies cited by Joint Academy support the effectiveness of Joint Academy’s home pain management app.

The Joint Academy app connects the user with a licensed physical therapist who helps the patient design a personalized treatment program to reduce joint pain. The patient uses the app to set goals and track progress. The app also sends daily messages and reminders. The physical therapist follows up with the patient on a regular basis. There is no in-person contact with the therapist; the patient’s entire experience with the program is via the app.

A peer-reviewed study published on the JAMA Network in February 2021 found that digital home-based treatment was significantly better at reducing OA pain than conventional treatment regimens. In the study, 146 patients with knee osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to either a control group with conventional treatments (79 people) or an intervention group (67 people). in all 57 control group members and 48 intervention group participants finished the program. Patients who left the program had various reasons but most, 27 in all, left the study due to COVID-19. Measured after 6 weeks, the control group’s average Numerical Rating Scale (NRS, the familiar 0-to-10 self-reported score) dropped 0.3 points. The intervention group’s NRS score, on the other hand, dropped an average of 1.8 points.

An earlier longitudinal study published in PLOS One in 2020 tracked 920 individuals in a 48-week digital osteoarthritis pain management program. At the end of the program the group reported 44% reduced joint pain.

From Health Tech Insider’s perspective, there are two major take-aways from the Joint Academy app and the peer-reviewed studies. Patients who adhere long-term to a regimen of focused exercises performed at home and guided by a digital app can significantly reduce their OA pain. Also, in order to continue to manage their pain, patients need to continue the exercises for life. This may not be as appealing for some patients who would prefer the quick fix of pain medication, but for those who wish to avoid taking opioids or other pills, the peer-reviewed findings show that a digital app is significantly superior to conventional OA pain management treatment.