Providing physical activity interventions for MSK conditions

'Providing physical activity interventions for people with musculoskeletal conditions' is a new report jointly produced by Versus Arthritis, the Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England and is endorsed by the Local Government Association, Royal College of General Practitioners and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists.

The report reviews the benefits of physical activity both for people with musculoskeletal conditions and wider society, and provides a framework that supports a tiered approach to intervention.

It's intended for organisations responsible for commissioning and providing local services, as well as musculoskeletal and physical activity organisations who may find it of interest, including:

  • local authorities
  • clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)
  • leisure and sports facilities providers
  • fitness professionals
  • physiotherapists
  • sports and exercise medicine professionals.

Read our Physical activity and MSK health report (PDF 533KB).

Musculoskeletal conditions and physical activity

For millions of people in the UK, the pain and disability caused by musculoskeletal conditions, including osteoarthritis and back pain, can limit independence and the ability to participate across many aspects of family, social and working life.

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

Supporting regular physical activity for people with musculoskeletal conditions reduces pain and disability, improves mental health and wellbeing, and helps with other long-term conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Health and care systems gain as people maintain their independence, reducing service burden. Improving musculoskeletal health should improve workplace participation, reducing individual hardship and delivering wider economic benefits.

Provision of physical activity for people with musculoskeletal conditions

Local authority physical activity provision is a core element of a comprehensive approach to support people with musculoskeletal conditions. However, the needs of people with these conditions are often overlooked in local health priorities, with osteoarthritis absent from 64% of local authority Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNAs). There's therefore an opportunity for commissioners to develop plans to enable and support physical activity for people with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions.

This report provides realistic solutions for local physical activity provision, and includes a focused checklist to empower local decision-makers to map, and identify gaps in, current levels of physical activity provision, and take action. Much can be done to improve the pain and quality of life for people with musculoskeletal conditions from taking action locally.

Evidence review

A major source of input to the report was an evidence review programme between April and May 2016 which looked at structured community rehabilitation programmes for musculoskeletal health.

Read our Evidence review panel (PDF 1.1MB) to see the programme attendees.

We're very grateful to Professor Phillip Conaghan for chairing the programme panel.

Response to the report

"For many people with joint or back pain, becoming physically active isn't straightforward. They often are unaware that physical activity can benefit their symptoms. Health and fitness professionals can lack the knowledge and skills to promote physical activity or provide reassurance and tailored advice.

"However, a 'one-size fits all' approach isn't appropriate for people with differing levels of mobility and activity. Depending on an individual’s needs, physical activity can involve a spectrum of approaches prescribed by a health professional. The report aims to ensure these approaches are at the heart of commissioners’ plans." – Dr Liam O’Toole, Chief Executive Officer, Versus Arthritis.

"This document pulls together important evidence and case studies showing the benefits of physical activity for people with musculoskeletal conditions. It provides an excellent platform for discussion and an opportunity for service planners and providers to consider how best to integrate physical activity into pathways for musculoskeletal patients" – Priya Dasoju, the Public Health Lead for the Chartered Society for Physiotherapy.

"Many of our patients will experience musculoskeletal problems during the course of their lives and caring for such patients makes a substantial contribution to our daily workload."

"This publication is intended for organisations responsible for commissioning and providing local services and is a good guide to physical activity interventions suitable for use in general practice. It'll be an excellent resource for GPs in training and newly qualified GPs as well as the established practitioner." – Professor Nigel Mathers, Honorary Secretary of the Royal College of General Practitioners.