Improving pain through physical activity

Physical activity can have a huge impact on improving our quality of life.

Chris Davis

15 Feb 2021

A family of four playing outdoors.

With ever increasing pressure on health services, widening health inequalities and medical treatments for persistent pain proving largely disappointing, the need to equip patients with the resources needed to self-manage their pain and its impact is more important than ever.


Physical activity and supervised exercise are the interventions most likely to help a person with persistent pain in relation to outcomes that are important to them. Working collaboratively with Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, Active Gloucestershire has been developing a new initiative called ‘It’s your move’, offering a physical activity programme for people living with persistent pain.


It’s safe to say that the coronavirus pandemic has demanded a radical adjustment to the way that services are delivered. ‘It’s your move’ has piloted a virtual offer to enable the delivery of this community-based initiative, that brings exercise and physical activity to the forefront of self-management approaches.


‘It’s your move’ aims to introduce patients to the benefits of physical activity, and support health care professionals in a way that changes the conversation, challenges anxieties in a positive way, and considers what is most important to the individual e.g. social connections, independence, managing mental health, and improving daily function.


We have built relationships with a number of GP practices that have recommended patients for a ten-session, supervised activity programme that is accessed virtually from their own homes. Despite the obvious need for virtual approaches arising from Covid-19, it has proven to be a useful offer for those who may not relate to the idea of taking part in activity in a hospital or traditional leisure type setting.


Participants from the first of three activity pilots have reported enjoyable experiences, and benefits related to quality of life and physical improvement, not limited to just pain:


“I haven’t had to use my inhaler and I have more energy.”


“I used to go up and down the stairs sideways and holding on with two hands. Now I can step straight up.”


“My joints aren’t creaking anymore.”


But something that has stood out above all, is the evidence of meaningful social connection that participants are keen to maintain beyond their participation in the pilot. Sharing experiences, building relationships and improving quality of life, are just small parts of a complex picture, but for which exercise serves a clear, sustainable benefit.


The ambition for the project is to scale-up the provision to allow a broader range of health care professionals to recommend people for the programme, whilst becoming change makers and strong advocates for physical activity as a gold standard approach to self-management.


If you are a health care professional working with people with persistent pain, we’d love to hear from you to share learning from the programme and explore how this type of initiative may benefit your patients. Please contact Chris, Senior Project Officer at Active Gloucestershire, for more information.


Don’t forget, you can share what you’re doing to help others stay active with #WeCanMove on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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Chris Davis
15 Feb 2021

Chris is a Senior Project Officer at Active Gloucestershire and the focus of his work is on older adults and disabled people.