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How activity helps musculoskeletal health

Ahead of the Health and Inactivity Webinar, Sue Brown, Chief Executive of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA) shares her thoughts on how we can all play our part in improving the musculoskeletal health of the nation.

In January 2020, ARMA delivered two webinars for fitness and activity providers about musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions and how they can be part of the solution to the increasing burden of MSK conditions. Two months later the country was in lockdown, activity providers were closed, and two million people were instructed not to leave their homes as they were clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. Successive lockdowns, COVID-19 control measures and working from home have all had a massive impact on people’s musculoskeletal health and their activity levels.

Musculoskeletal conditions are conditions of the bones joints and muscles including all types of arthritis, back pain, osteoporosis. As the leading cause of years lived with disability, these conditions have a huge impact on the economy, the NHS and the individuals living with them. Some are more common as we age, others affect people of working age and children. Almost all of these conditions benefit from activity, and some are preventable by keeping active. The Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA) brings together patient and professional organisations to work for improvements in MSK services. Unsurprisingly, physical activity is a priority for our members.

The impact of the pandemic on the MSK health of the nation is worrying. The stay at home message led many people to be less active. This was particularly true of those who were shielding, which included some with MSK conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis who were taking immunosuppressing medication. Working from home in circumstances that were less than ideal led to an increase in neck and shoulder pain. Many people with existing MSK conditions couldn’t access the services which help them to manage their pain, including health services, yoga classes and swimming. Waiting times for procedures such as joint replacement surgery are now at an all-time high. Public Health England estimates that 110,000 more older people will have at least one fall per year as a result of reduced strength and balance activity during the pandemic.

Part of the solution lies in getting people active again. We all have a role to play in this. Local authorities can create the conditions for a more active population through leisure services, safe parks and green spaces and active travel plans. Health care practitioners can talk to and support patients to be more active. Fitness and activity providers can think about how to make their services more welcoming and supportive of people with MSK conditions, many of whom will be in pain and find exercise more challenging.

Whatever your interest in this, please take a look at the resources below and see how you can play your part in improving the MSK health of the population.

ARMA resources

ARMA has produced several webinars for different audiences about activity and MSK health:

Supporting people with musculoskeletal conditions to be more active

Sara Hazard of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists talks about their Love Activity campaign and what patients told them about supporting people to be more active.

Dr Hamish Reid demonstrates the Moving Medicine resource, which helps clinicians to have supportive conversations with patients about increasing physical activity.

Dr Ai Lyn Tan talks about her role as a Parkrun MSK ambassador, and how you can use Parkrun as a resource to encourage people with MSK conditions to be more active.

Supporting customers with musculoskeletal conditions for fitness and activity providers

In part 1 David Vaux, Therapies manager and Exercise project lead Arthritis Action and Benjamin Ellis, Senior Clinical Policy Advisor, Versus Arthritis discuss how the fitness and wellness sector can welcome people with MSK conditions.

Part 2 outlines two rehabilitation programmes specifically designed for people with MSK conditions which can be provided in leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools: ESCAPE-pain, for people with hip and knee pain and Good Boost which is a water-based programme.

More people, more active, more often

ARMA’s annual lecture 2018 gives a great background to the issues of physical activity and MSK.

Nick Pearson, CEO Parkrun, Michael Brannan, Physical Activity Programme Manager, Public Health England and Claire Harris, Physiotherapist consider how we can harness the power of the statutory, voluntary, private sectors and communities to get people active.

For more information about ARMA see our website


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