What is the effect of exercise on wound healing in patients with venous leg ulcers? A systematic review

Daisy Smith, Rebecca Lane, Rosemary McGinnes, Jane O'Brien, Renea Johnston, Lyndal Bugeja, Victoria Team, Carolina Weller

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Standard best practice for the treatment of venous leg ulcers (VLUs) is compression bandaging of the lower leg to reduce hydrostatic pressure. There is considerable variation in reported healing rates when using this gold-standard approach; therefore, a systematic and robust evaluation of other interventions is required. Exercise interventions, in addition to standard compression therapy, could improve wound-healing time and prevent their recurrence. We have conducted a systematic review to examine the effects of exercise on wound characteristics, including time to heal, size and recurrence, pain, quality of life, adverse events, and economic outcomes. This review was registered with PROSPERO 2016:CRD42016046407. A systematic search of Ovid Medline, Ovid EMBASE, Ovid CINAHL, The Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and PEDro was conducted on January 30, 2017, for randomised control trials to examine the effects of exercise on time to heal, size and recurrence, pain, quality of life, adverse events, and economic outcomes. Six studies met the inclusion criteria, but all had design flaws leading to biases, most commonly performance and selective reporting bias. Three studies compared a progressive resistance exercise programme (PREG) plus compression with compression alone for a period of 12 weeks. Low-quality evidence indicates the following: possibly no difference in the proportion of ulcers healed (risk ratio [RR] 1.14, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.84, I2 36%; 3 trials, 116 participants); probably no difference in quality of life (mean difference [MD] 3 points better on 100 point scale with exercise, 95% CI −1.89 to 7.89, 1 trial, 59 participants); possible increase in the risk of adverse events with exercise (OR 1.32, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.85, 1 RCT, 40 participants); and no difference in ankle range of motion and calf muscle pump. Evidence was downgraded due to susceptibility to bias and imprecision. Recurrence, pain, and economic outcomes were not measured in these trials, and time to healing was measured but not fully reported in 1 trial. We are uncertain of the effects of other interventions (community-based exercise and behaviour modification, ten thousand steps, supervised vs unsupervised exercise) due to the availability of low- or very low-quality evidence only from single trials. The review highlights the need for further research, with larger sample sizes, to properly address the significance of the effect of exercise on VLU wound characteristics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-453
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Wound Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • exercise
  • systematic review
  • venous leg ulcer

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