Physical Activity and Health in Rheumatic Disease

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Research focus

Our research mainly focuses physical activity and exercise in the rheumatic diseases in intervention studies and implementation studies, development and adaptation of assessment methods and exploration of patients’ and care givers’ perspectives on physical activity. Our research is translational and multiprofessional and performed in collaboration with researchers from multiple universities in Sweden and abroad. 

Research projects/activities

  • Physical Activity in Rheumatoid Arthritis – the PARA 2010 study 
  • Co-designing an internet service for self-management of physical activity. A case study among individuals with rheumatoid arthritis
  • Development of methods for patient preference and conceptions on exercise in rheumatoid arthritis and spondyloarthritis

Group leader 

Professor, Christina Helging Opava

Group members

Research group

Alyssa Dufour

Anne Marie Norén, Stockholm county council

Birgitta Nordgren

Emma Swärdh

Ingrid Demmelmaier

Marie Heidenvall

Nina Brodin

Susanne Pettersson

Åsa Revenäs

Other collaborators or partners

Associate professor Cecilia Fridén, Karolinska Institutet

Doctor Norelee Kennedy, University of Limerick, Ireland

Associate professor Eva Kosek, Karolinska Institutet

Professor Ingrid Lundberg, Karolinska Institutet

Associate professor Monika Löfgren, Danderyds hospital

Researcher Gunnar Bergström, Karolinska Institutet

Professor Thea VlietVlieland, Leiden University, the Netherlands

Associate professor Pernilla Åsenlöf, Uppsala universitet


European League Against Rheumatism

Swedish Rheumatism Association 

People with Arthritis and Rheumatism in Europe

Swedish Rheumatology Quality Registers

Strategic Research Program Health Care Sciences, Karolinska Institutet and Umeå university

Financial support

Swedish Rheumatism Association

 Strategic Research Program - Care Sciences, Karolinska Institutet

Swedish Research Council


Doctoral theses

Thomas Nessen, Learning to guide behavior change : physical therapists’ promotion of health-enhancing physical activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis, PhD 2016 

 Åsa Revenäs, Co-designing a mobile Internet service for self-management of physical activity in rheumatiod arthritis PhD 2016 

Birgitta Nordgren, Health-enhancing physical activity in rheumatioid arthritis. Prevalence, intervention and assessment. PhD 2014 

Emma Swärdh Sjöquist, Promoting physical activity in rheumatoid arthritis. Aspects of coaching in physical therapy, PhD 2013

Anne Marie Norén, Activities with balance limitations among patients with peripheral arthritis. Description and assessment, licentiate 2008 

Nina Brodin, Physical activity and health perception in inflammatory joint disease. A physiotherapy perspective, PhD 2008 

Annica Wohlin-Wottrich, On aspects of context in rehabilitation after stroke : views of patients and therapeutists, licentiate 2006

Ingrid Lindquist, Learning in physiotherapy, PhD 2006

Eva Eurenius, Physical activity, physical capacity and health in rheumatoid arthritis, PhD 2006

Marie André, Education, foot assessment and treatment in juvenile idiopathic arthritis, PhD 2005 

Ulla Levin, Sacroiliac pain provocation testing in physiotherapy, PhD 2004 

Selected scientific publications 

- Revenäs Å, Opava CH, Ahlén H, Brusewitz M, Pettersson S, Åsenlöf P. Mobile internet service for self-management of physical activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis: evaluation of a test version. RMD Open. 2016 Apr 4;2(1):e000214.

- Kierkegaard M, Lundberg IE, Olsson T, Johansson S, Ygberg S, Opava C, Holmqvist LW, Piehl F. High-intensity resistance training in multiple sclerosis - An exploratory study of effects on immune markers in blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and on mood, fatigue, health-related quality of life, muscle strength, walking and cognition. J Neurol Sci. 2016 Mar 15;362:251-7. 

- Demmelmaier I, Dufour AB, Nordgren B, Opava CH. Trajectories of Physical Activity Over Two Years in Persons With Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2016 Aug;68(8):1069-77.

- Adams J, Geenen R, Moe RH, van Eijk-Hustings Y, Opava C. Development of the Role and Scope of an Academic Mentorship Network for Health Professionals Working with People with Rheumatological and Musculoskeletal Conditions across Europe. Musculoskeletal Care. 2016 Jun;14(2):126-30

- Mannberg Bäckman S, Stråt S, Ahlström S, Brodin N. Validity and sensitivity to change of the Patient Specific Functional Scale used during rehabilitation following proximal humeral fracture. Disabil Rehabil. 2016;38:487-92.

- Swärdh E, Brodin N. Effects of aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise in adults with rheumatoid arthritis: a narrative review summarising a chapter in Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of disease (FYSS 2016). Br J Sports Med. 2016;50:362-7.

- Boström C, Elfving B, Dupré B, Opava CH, Lundberg IE, Jansson E. Effects of a one-year physical activity programme for women with systemic lupus erythematosus - a randomized controlled study. Lupus. 2016 Jan 13. pii: 0961203315622817. [Epub ahead of print]

- Larkin L, Nordgren B, Purtill H, Brand C, Fraser A, Kennedy N. Criterion validity of the activPAL Activity Monitor for sedentary and physical activity patterns in people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Phys Ther. 2015 Dec 4. [Epub ahead of print]

- Cuperus N, Vliet Vlieland T, Brodin N, Hammond A, Kjeken I, Lund H, Murphy S, Neijland Y, Opava CH, Roškar S, Sargautyte R, Stamm T, Mata XT, Uhlig T, Zangi H, van den Ende CH. Characterizing the concept of activity pacing as a non-pharmacological intervention in rheumatology care: results of an international Delphi survey. Scand J Rheumatol. 2015 Sep 4:1-9. [Epub ahead of print]

- Nordgren B, Fridén C, Demmelmaier I, Bergström G, Lundberg IE, Dufour AB, Opava CH; PARA Study Group. An outsourced health-enhancing physical activity programme for people with rheumatoid arthritis: exploration of adherence and response. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2015;54:1065-73.

- Opava CH, Björk M. Towards evidence-based hand exercises in rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet. 2015;385:396-8.

- Brodin N, Lohela-Karlsson M, Swärdh E, Opava CH. Cost-effectiveness of a one-year coaching program for healthy physical activity in early rheumatoid arthritis. Disabil Rehabil. 2015;37:757-62.

- Brodin N, Hurkmans E, Matteo L, Nava T, Vliet Vlieland TPM, Opava CH. Promotion of health-enhancing physical activity in rheumatoid arthritis. A comparative study between Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. Rheumatol Int. 2015;35:1665-73.

- Demmelmaier I, Lindkvist Å, Nordgren B, Opava CH. ’A gift from heaven’ or ’This was not for me’. A mixed methods approach to describe experiences of participation in an outsourced physical activity program for persons with rheumatoid arthritis.Clin Rheumatol. 2015;34:429-39.

- Lööf H, Demmelmaier I, Welin Henriksson E, Lindblad S, Nordgren B, Opava CH, Johansson U-B. Fear-avoidance beliefs of physical activity in adults with rheumatoid arthritis. Scand J Rheumatol. 2015;44:93-9

- Nessen T, Demmelmaier I, Opava CH. The Swedish Exercise Self-Efficacy Scale: reliability and validity in a rheumatoid arthritis population. Disabil Rehabil. 2015;37:2130-4.

- Revenäs Å, Opava CH, Martin C, Demmelmaier I, Keller C, Åsenlöf P. Development of a web and mobile app to support physical activity in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis: Results from the second step of a co-design process. JMIR Res Protoc 2015;4(1):e22

Other selected publications

Opava CH (Editor). Physical activity in rheumatic disease. Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2014 (In Swedish)

From research to action. Physical activity and exercise in rheumatic disease, Swedish Rheumatism Association 2011

Opava CH, Alexanderson H. Physical activity and exercise in rheumatic disease. In Klareskog L, Saxne T, Enman Y (ed.). Rheumatology, 2:nd edition. Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2011 (In Swedish)

Thyberg I, Opava CH. Rehabilitation in rheumatic disease. In Klareskog L, Saxne T, Enman Y (ed.). Rheumatology, 2:nd edition. Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2011 (In Swedish)

 Opava CH, Mannerkorpi K. Physical activity and exercise in rheumatic disease. In: Weisman MH, Weinblatt ME, Louie JS, Van Vollenhoven RF. Targeted treatment of the rheumatic diseases. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, Elsevier, 2010, pp 408-19

 Lundberg IE, Opava CH. Reumatiker mår bra av dynamisk träning. Cochrane analys ger vetenskapligt stöd. Läkartidningen 2010;107:970

Strength training for people with rheumatic disease. Instructional DVD. Abbvie (Abbott) 2006 (In Swedish)

Aerobic excercise for people with rheumatic disease. Instructional DVD. Abbvie (Abbott) 2006 (In Swedish)