Moving more with the ESCAPE-pain Project

A lady doing hand exercises.

Physical activity is important for people with arthritis as it’s proven to reduce pain, increase well-being and improve physical and mental health. 

There are many exercises to suit every individuals needs and abilities, including t'ai chi, gym classes and yoga. It’s important to try and find something that is enjoyable, and any movement is better than none, so it is best to start any exercise programme gently and do what you can. We’ve recently shared the benefits of the Walking with Ease programme and how healthcare professionals are working with Parkrun to help fitness, improve well-being and symptoms such as pain. 

We spoke to Sarah from the Versus Arthritis Health Services Improvement team to find out more about the Escape Pain exercise project. 

What is the ESCAPE-pain Project?

ESCAPE-pain, or Enabling Self-management and Coping with Arthritic Pain using Exercise, is a six-week programme of exercise and self-management delivered to small groups twice a week by a physiotherapist or fitness instructor. 

We began our involvement with the ESCAPE-pain project in April 2017 and we're really encouraged by the impact to date. 11,000 people have attended and have reported a range of health benefits.

The course helps people understand their condition, teaches them simple things they can help themselves with, and takes them through a progressive exercise programme so they learn how to cope with pain better. 

Robust evaluation shows that ESCAPE-pain:

  • reduces pain
  • improves physical function
  • improves the psychosocial consequences of pain
  • reduces healthcare and utilisation costs.

The programme is currently being delivered successfully to over 200 sites and continues to grow and spread across the UK. People with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip can either be referred from a healthcare professional or in some cases refer themselves. 

We’re working with a range of partners at a local level to increase awareness of the project, so it’s available in more places and across the nations. This includes embedding it into the usual patient pathways and linking into the other support available in a specific area. For example, support groups and branches. 

Who is it aimed at helping? 

ESCAPE-pain is predominately recommended to people with osteoarthritis 45+ who are experiencing some knee or hip pain and may have other conditions.  People of all ages can attend many of the groups and the best place to find out where your nearest class is via

There’s strong evidence of the benefits of group work which is why everyone attends at the same time to start and finish the 6-week block together. It’s an opportunity to make friends, learn more about what’s possible with arthritis and make moving a part of your daily life. 

"It has given me the confidence to exercise more than I thought possible at my age and due to the fact that I have osteoarthritis."

Programme member

" know my knees are stronger because of the work on my muscles and I intend to carry on with the exercises and gym work so that my muscles will not atrophy again."

Programme member

"I have benefitted 100% from the class. My right knee is much improved, and I have a training programme to help me with the rest of my life."

Programme member

Even though some days it might feel best to do nothing, sitting still for too long can be bad for you. When you’re not moving your muscles begin to deteriorate. It’s important to keep muscles strong as they protect the joints. Moving more not only helps to manage your existing condition but can prevent others from developing.

The ESCAPE-pain project is all about getting started on a journey to find an exercise that people will enjoy, it could be anything from walking, gardening, golf or cycling to group activities such as dance, chair-based exercise or water aerobics.  

Getting into a routine which works for people and their lifestyle will make a difference on many levels. From improved sleep, better fitness, increased well-being and reduced stiffness and pain. 

Next steps 

We’re funding the project until 2020 and by 2023 our ambition is that 50,000 people will be taking part each year. We want to see it running in physiotherapy departments, leisure and community centres and places of work. 

Find out more 

Read Arlene Rowe’s story to find out how the programme helped her to manage her pain.

Visit for more information on the programme. The ESCAPE-pain programme is the result of the funding and support of the Health Innovation Network and St. George’s, University of London, Kingston University, and the research of Professor Mike Hurley. Other partners include NHS England, the Academic Health Science Network and Sport England.