BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders BMC series – open, inclusive and trusted 2018 19:64

Objective assessment of physical activity and sedentary behaviour in knee osteoarthritis patients – beyond daily steps and total sedentary time

Maik Sliepen, Elsa Mauricio, Matthijs Lipperts, Bernd Grimm & Dieter Rosenbaum


Knee osteoarthritis patients may become physically inactive due to pain and functional limitations. Whether physical activity exerts a protective or harmful effect depends on the frequency, intensity, time and type (F.I.T.T.). The F.I.T.T. dimensions should therefore be assessed during daily life, which so far has hardly been feasible. Furthermore, physical activity should be assessed within subgroups of patients, as they might experience different activity limitations. Therefore, this study aimed to objectively describe physical activity, by assessing the F.I.T.T. dimensions, and sedentary behaviour of knee osteoarthritis patients during daily life. An additional goal was to determine whether activity events, based on different types and durations of physical activity, were able to discriminate between subgroups of KOA patients based on risk factors.


Clinically diagnosed knee osteoarthritis patients (according to American College of Rheumatology criteria) were monitored for 1 week with a tri-axial accelerometer. Furthermore, they performed three functional tests and completed the Knee Osteoarthritis Outcome Score. Physical activity levels were described for knee osteoarthritis patients and compared between subgroups.


Sixty-one patients performed 7303 mean level steps, 319 ascending and 312 descending steps and 601 bicycle crank revolutions per day. Most waking hours were spent sedentary (61%), with 4.6 bouts of long duration (> 30 min). Specific events, particularly ascending and descending stairs/slopes, brief walking and sedentary bouts and prolonged walking bouts, varied between subgroups.


From this sample of KOA patients, the most common form of activity was level walking, although cycling and stair climbing activities occurred frequently, highlighting the relevance of distinguishing between these types of PA. The total active time encompassed a small portion of their waking hours, as they spent most of their time sedentary, which was exacerbated by frequently occurring prolonged bouts.

In this study, event-based parameters, such as stair climbing or short bouts of walking or sedentary time, were found more capable of discriminating between subgroups of KOA patients compared to overall levels of PA and sedentary time. Thereby, subtle limitations in physical behaviour of KOA-subgroups were revealed, which might ultimately be targeted in rehabilitation programs.

Trial registration

German Clinical Trials Registry under ‘DRKS00008735’ at 02.12.2015.

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