Testing new approaches to managing pain

18 May 2021

When we asked people with arthritis what mattered most, they told us ‘pain colours everything’. This is why tackling pain is one of our key ambitions.

We know that the impact of pain is not currently recognised in society. We also know that investment into pain doesn’t match the impact and new solutions are needed to treat pain.

We want to lead change so that ultimately pain no longer limits the lives of people with arthritis.

To do this, we are pushing for increased recognition of pain and its impact on people’s lives. We want people with arthritis to feel more informed, better supported and more confident to manage their pain and its impact.

Our investment into pain research is just one of the ways we are pushing back, aiming to improve understanding of pain and ultimately develop new treatments.

As well as the need for new treatments for pain, exercise and self-management are essential to help people to manage their own pain at home. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic with more remote appointments, and increased waiting times for joint replacement surgery.

What are our researchers doing to help manage pain?

Researchers in Leeds are aiming to develop a digital rehabilitation programme for pain in the elbow, forearm, wrist or hand.

This innovative way of delivering care can be done remotely, which is now particularly relevant due to the changes in how healthcare is delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The programme will include exercises alongside education to help with self-management.This exciting research project, starting this summer, will run for the next six years, and is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Versus Arthritis.

"I'm very grateful to NIHR and Versus Arthritis for supporting our research programme which will have a very practical output for people with common painful hand, wrist and elbow problems. These are problems which GPs, physios and rheumatologists see every day. To be part of the team developing a digital intervention that people with these conditions will be able to easily access is very exciting." Professor Philip Conaghan, researcher

Why is this research important?

Painful conditions of the elbow, forearm, wrist or hand, including tennis elbow, tendon inflammation and hand arthritis are common.

Many people living with these conditions find daily activities such as getting dressed, washing and cooking difficult, resulting in reduced quality-of-life.

The researchers recently found that people advised to keep moving their hand or arm had better outcomes than people advised to rest or have immediate physiotherapy. However, further work is needed to improve treatment.

Patient involvement is vital in research

All our research involves patients from the very start, and throughout all our research activities.

Our patient insight partners have a wide range of experiences of living with a musculoskeletal condition. They provide important feedback to our researchers, reviewing all the research applications we receive and guiding us on what is important to them.

Their experience of living with arthritis is key to ensuring that the research we fund is relevant, accessible and sensitive.

In this project, alongside the researchers, there’s a patient co-applicant who will chair a Patient Advisory Group to ensure patients with experiences of living with relevant conditions are involved in shaping the project throughout.

“For me, it’s important to get involved in the development of research, not for myself, but improving arthritis treatments for the future generations. As a PPI member I have found it a useful opportunity to find out more about my condition, and share my experiences as a person living with arthritis to show the full impact of the condition which the researchers might not be aware of.” Valerie Thurlow, patient co-applicant and chair on the PPIE advisory group

As the research moves through each stage, the group will be used to share ideas and as a source of feedback. This is important as it means the research will be addressing the areas that are important to people living with these conditions.

What will the researchers do?

The aim of the research is to create a digital rehabilitation programme, which can be prescribed by GPs, for people living with pain.

The researchers will review the current evidence and speak to people living with these painful conditions to get their views on using digital programmes.

This will include the barriers to using such a programme, as well as reasons why they would use such a programme. This means the programme developed at the end of the project will be relevant and accessible for the people who will be using it.

Using this insight, the team will work with patients and healthcare professionals to co-design the programme.

A large clinical trial involving around 350 people will be carried out. This will allow researchers to review how successful the programme is in managing pain compared to usual care.

This will vary in the different study sites, but usual care could include, being provided with an information or exercise sheet by GP, attending musculoskeletal community physiotherapy services or referral to occupational therapy.

After the trial, the researchers will consider the practical steps needed to roll-out this programme to be part of routine clinical practice.

Ways to help manage your pain at home

Routine surgery and treatments are being cancelled and postponed due to the pandemic, therefore waiting lists that were already too long are now even longer. Read pain management tips from our community.

Exercise can help reduce joint stiffness, improve your mood and make you feel better in yourself. Check out Let’s Move – a programme for people with arthritis who want more movement in their lives.

Stay connected and join our online community and connect with real people who share their everyday successes and challenges when managing their arthritis.

How to get involved in our research

For more information, or to find out how you can become involved in our work, read how to get involved in our research.

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