Using physical activity to help people with arthritis

Nearly three-quarters of people with osteoarthritis report some form of constant pain, which in itself reduces quality of life.

Arthritis Research UK recently published a report in partnership with the Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England: ‘Providing physical activity for people with musculoskeletal conditions’. The report highlights the role that local authorities play in supporting people with musculoskeletal conditions (including arthritis) to be physically active.

Nearly three-quarters of people with osteoarthritis report some form of constant pain, which in itself reduces quality of life. People with musculoskeletal conditions (including arthritis) are less likely to be employed, and more likely to retire early, than those in good health. However, physical activity can help tackle the pain of arthritis.

A musculoskeletal condition (including arthritis) can be a barrier to physical activity for many reasons such as:

  • Pain when exercising
  • Fear of exacerbating their condition
  • Restriction of movement
  • Fatigue (which is common for people with painful musculsoketal conditions)
  • Confidence in knowing how to become physically active
  • Thinking of physical activity as ‘not for me’

However, with the right information, training and resources leisure facilities can be made arthritis friendly and encourage participation in physical activity.

The role of local authorities

Local authority physical activity provision is a core element of a comprehensive approach to support people with musculoskeletal conditions. There is therefore an opportunity for commissioners to include the impact of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions (including arthritis) in these assessments then ensure this need is met in local physical activity plans. Local authorities can work in partnership with other local organisations such as clinical commissioning groups and leisure providers to ensure local provision is mapped, and systems and training put in place so people are signposted to physical activity programmes that are most suitable for their condition.

Case Study - Royal Borough of Greenwich Healthwise Physical Activity Referral Scheme (GP Referrals).

Since 2004, the Royal Borough of Greenwich has funded Healthwise which is run by Greenwich Better (local leisure provider) in partnership with other local organisations. The Healthwise scheme is available to Greenwich residents with long term conditions, including those with musculoskeletal conditions(including arthritis), who want to become more physically active.

The scheme runs for 13 weeks and offers support and motivation for people to become and remain physically active. Participants must be referred by their GP or nurse and will receive an individually tailored exercise programme and access to a number of classes across the Borough. These classes are delivered by a qualified and experienced instructor.

Keys statistics for last year (2015/16):

  • 468 GPs and Allied Health Professionals referred to the service from 74 GP surgeries or acute hospital departments
  • 1,748 people started the programme and the completion rate was 58%
  • 97% of participants reported increased awareness, confidence, knowledge and skills at completion
  • 17% of participants reported having a musculoskeletal condition
  • 80% of participants increased their physical activity levels, 12% decreased and 8% stayed the same
  • 65% of participants showed an improvement in health outcomes

More information on accessing the scheme is available online.

Get in touch

Arthritis Research UK wants to learn about examples of good practice in physical activity promotion and support. You might have ideas for new interventions or already be delivering bespoke services that are working successfully for people with musculoskeletal conditions.

Please email