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Exercise to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis

Three women doing exercise in a pool

Research has highlighted the important role that exercise can play in reducing pain and increasing function in people with osteoarthritis.

We supported Professor Mike Hurley at St George’s, University of London, to develop an exercise intervention programme called ‘Enabling Self-management and Coping with Arthritis Pain through Exercise’ – or ESCAPE-pain.

The ESCAPE-pain programme

ESCAPE-pain is a six-week programme of integrated exercise and self-management delivered in a group setting by a physiotherapist.

As well as a tailored exercise routine, patients learn about the causes of pain and self-management techniques.

The programme aims to:

  • improve people’s understanding of their problem
  • advise them what to do and what not to do
  • help them realise that exercise is a safe self-management strategy that can reduce the impact of joint pain and improve their quality of life.

The benefits of ESCAPE-pain

ESCAPE-pain has been shown to:

  • reduce pain
  • improve physical function
  • increase quality of life and general well-being
  • reduce use of healthcare services and medication.

In addition, it’s also cheaper and more cost-effective than usual care.

Clinical improvements were found to continue for more than two years after patients completed the programme.

Find out more about the benefits of ESCAPE-pain.

Assessing the impact

The impact of ESCAPE-pain has been vast. The programme is now being delivered successfully in community centres across the UK. Patients can either be referred from a healthcare professional or refer themselves.

Clinics are reporting:

  • improved patient outcomes
  • reduced costs
  • increased professional development opportunities for staff (in terms of gaining additional skills required to deliver the programme).

In Kent, the intervention is estimated to have led to a 50% reduction in the costs of physiotherapy for chronic joint pain.

Healthcare professionals can visit to access the resources they need to run the programme.

Next steps

The programme will also soon be running in other physiotherapy departments, leisure and community centres and places of work.

Next in the pipeline is the development of a patient-facing website that will allow people with arthritis to do the programme at home. This will massively increase the number of people with joint pain who will be able to ESCAPE-pain.

For more information, go to
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.