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New app for virtual group exercise classes to support people living with arthritis

A new project to help people with musculoskeletal issues is being developed with the help of researchers from Oxford Brookes University.  Led by Good Boost, the Virtual Community Rehabilitation (VCR) project consortium has received £408,000 of funding from Innovate UK to develop an app so that people can join in with virtual group exercise classes from home and connect with others who have similar experiences.

Musculoskeletal conditions are a leading contributor to disability

18 million people in the UK have a problem relating to a musculoskeletal (MSK) issue – from a knee injury to arthritis, these are conditions that affect the muscles, joints, ligaments and nerves. Musculoskeletal conditions are the third largest spend for the NHS and are a leading contributor to disability globally.

The pandemic has led to a backlog of people, primarily over 50s, who are in need of support to manage their condition due to a combination of physical inactivity and limited access to non-emergency appointments.

Those living with MSK conditions can find it challenging to exercise due to pain, fear of injury and low motivation. However physical activity can help to alleviate symptoms and improve mental health.

Ben Wilkins, CEO of Good Boost, said: “Focus groups with people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions highlighted that the motivation to find the time to be active can be a challenge. But if there was an option to sign-up for a virtual group class, then that commitment and social contract would be the nudge to encourage the behaviour to find a date and time to be regularly active.”

New app designed to bring people together

The Virtual Community Rehabilitation (VCR) project, running for twelve months, will be offering support to people in the form of peer-led, virtual group exercise classes delivered via a mobile app.

A function of the app will be to help people set individual and group goals (potentially connected to fundraising) and create a virtual chat room to bring those with similar conditions together. A series of focus groups encompassing a wide range of people of all ages and backgrounds living with MSK conditions will pilot the app.

The app will be developed in partnership with Arthritis ActionNational Rheumatoid Arthritis SocietyNational Axial Spondyloarthritis SocietyVersus ArthritisUK Active, and Oxford Brookes University.

Oxford Brookes leads on research component

The Centre for Movement, Occupational and Rehabilitation Sciences (MOReS) at Oxford Brookes University is responsible for the research component of the project, to evaluate the app. This will help the project team to understand the barriers for digital exercise solutions and the impact of the exercise programmes on key MSK health indicators, such as completing daily tasks and the ability of people to self-manage their condition.

Professor Helen Dawes, Director of MOReS said: “I am delighted to be working with Good Boost and the project partners to develop and evaluate this evidence based community rehabilitation programme. It has the potential to bring people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions together in groups to safely and effectively participate in individualised rehabilitation.”

The whole project will last 12 months with the app available to download from Spring 2022.

The new project builds on previous work that Oxford Brookes University has collaborated with Good Boost on, including developing an app to help those with inflammatory arthritis.