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Virtual exercise programme helps people cope with chronic pain

By 25th May 2021 No Comments
Physiotherapists from Sirona running a virtual session.

Chronic joint pain, or osteoarthritis, affects one in five of the population over the age of 50. It is the most common type of arthritis and can cause considerable suffering and distress because it is a long-term condition and has no cure.

However, a virtual pain management and exercise programme has been making a big difference to people living with chronic pain in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

The ESCAPE-pain course promotes education and teaches self-management and coping strategies, combined with exercise regimes individualised for each participant.

The programme cannot cure or eliminate pain completely however, it aims to help people understand their condition better, and increase their physical function to improve their quality of life.

Nationally, it has now helped more than 20,000 people across the UK and saved the NHS an estimated £30 million in the process.

Physiotherapist Simon Shepherd and Physiotherapy Assistant, Julie Brann from Sirona started face to face classes at Knowle West Health Park, Bristol in 2017. 

However, since moving online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Julie says more people have been able to benefit from the five-week programme:

“We used to invite up to 15 people and perhaps seven or eight would finish but since moving online in August 2020 to date, we have had 61 individuals choose to take the course and 50 have finished so a much better uptake and success rate.  

“Although making our classes virtual has been a challenge for some, we have also had lots of lovely feedback and funny stories. One person attended from their holiday caravan in Devon and another from his client’s house, as he is a builder!”  

Sandra Tilley, aged 60, from Thornbury has been struggling with arthritis in her knees and ankles for seven years and completed the course in March:


“My pain was stopping me from going out on walks for any length of time, playing with my grandchildren and getting upstairs to bed was a real struggle. I was very sceptical at first when my GP referred me onto the programme, but it’s made a big difference to my life. As well as the exercise, the friendly discussions have reduced my feelings of isolation. Learning to accept the fact that management of pain by use of medication is acceptable, has given me a more positive feeling and outlook. I am now in control of my arthritis rather than it controlling me and I have even cancelled having a stairlift fitted!”

Sandi Brooks, 63, from Warmley, who is an avid motorbike rider, has been suffering from osteoarthritis in her hips and pelvis for years:  

“At first, I didn’t think it was helping, but in the short five weeks I have finally felt better going out for walks. Now I have more speed and walk more upright than before. I am still in pain with my hip but not so much with my back, so onwards and upwards! I am hoping by the summer I will be walking a lot further. Julie and her team made the sessions enjoyable and always made me look forward to the next one.”

How a class would have looked before the pandemic. Credit: escape-pain.org

Professor Mike Hurley, originator of the ESCAPE-pain programme, said,

“I must admit I was sceptical if our ESCAPE-pain programme could be delivered virtually, and how effective it might be. But I was wrong (not for the first time!), the brave folks at Sirona have shown us it can be delivered, and that people benefit from it. Knowing this gives us another option for people who can’t get to classes for whatever reason.”

As lockdown eases, the team from Sirona are keen to provide more virtual sessions and Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will also be funding face to face courses at three local gyms; Greenway Community Centre in Southmead, Brunel Fitness Centre in Speedwell and Circadian Trust Leisure Centres in South Gloucestershire.

If you would like to book a place on one of the courses being run in a gym please contact:-