Among women with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and idiopathic inflammatory myopathies (IIMs), using an 8-week physiotherapy program was associated with significantly improved sexual function and quality of life (QoL).

A pilot single-center, nonrandomized, controlled study on the subject was conducted in the Czech Republic, with findings published in Rheumatology and Therapy.

It has been well recognized that severe clinical manifestations of SSc and IIMs are often linked to considerable disability and decreased QoL, including sexual health. Although individuals with these 2 rare rheumatic autoimmune diseases are known to experience high rates of sexual dysfunction, to date, no specific treatments have been suggested. Realizing that physical activity offers substantial health benefits, the researchers sought to explore the impact of an 8-week tailored physiotherapy program on the sexual health of women with SSc and myositis.

All participants were nonselectively recruited from June 2021. Based on their willingness and ability to partake in the physiotherapy program, patients were assigned to an intervention group or a control group. Those in the intervention group underwent an 8-week physiotherapy program, which included pelvic floor exercises and physiotherapy, 2 times weekly for 1 hour per session. The physiotherapy was intended to target those musculoskeletal problems known to subjectively limit participants’ sexual function. Those in the control group did not receive any specialized therapy for sexual dysfunction. Individuals in both arms were permitted to maintain their use of stable doses of standard-of-care pharmacologic treatment and to continue with their routine physical activities.

Read more about experimental therapies for patients with SSc

Fourteen women with SSc and 4 women with IIMs who fulfilled inclusion criteria were enrolled in the study. Participants were allocated to the intervention group (n=9; 7 patients with SSc and 2 with IIM) or the control group (n=9; 7 patients with SSc and 2 with IIM), which was based on their capability and motivation to undergo the 8-week physiotherapy intervention. In each of the groups, 1 woman was excluded; thus, the final number of participants evaluated in the study comprised 6 women with SSc and 2 women with IIM each in the intervention group and the control group.

At baseline and week 8, all participants completed the following questionnaires regarding sexual function:

  • Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI)
  • Brief Index of Sexual Functioning for Women (BISF-W)
  • Sexual Quality of Life-Female (SQoL-F)
  • Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ)
  • Medical Outcomes Short Form-36 (SF-36)
  • Beck’s Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II)

Results of the study showed that compared with the statistically significant deterioration observed in the control group over weeks 0 to 8, significant improvements in FSFI and BISF-W, as well as the physical component of QoL (SF-36 PCS), were observed. Improvements in functional status and some additional sexual function domains were observed as well.

“Our 8-week physiotherapy program not only prevented the natural course of progressive deterioration of functional ability but also led to a significant improvement in sexual function and QoL in women with SSc and IIM,” the researchers noted. “However, due to the lack of randomization and a relatively small sample size resulting from the strict inclusion criteria, further validation of our results is needed,” they concluded.


Heřmánková B, Špiritović M, Oreská S, et al. Effect of an 8-week tailored physiotherapy program on sexual health in women with scleroderma and myositis: a controlled pilot study. Rheumatol Ther. Published online May 23, 2023. doi:10.1007/s40744-023-00559-9