Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are any condition that affects the joints, bones and muscles.

In 2021, 17.4% of people in Leicestershire reported a long-term MSK problem (1). This includes back pain, hip and knee osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and hip fractures. Symptoms will vary depending on your condition, but these can include pain, swelling, fatigue, weakness and poor mobility.

One of the most common concerns for those who suffer from joint pain and muscle pain is: won't exercise make my symptoms worse? When in fact, physical activity is a proven method of helping you to manage and improve pain over time (2)

(1) Fingertips, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities

(2) MSK Pain, Moving Medicine

Can I be active with MSK pain?

The simple answer is: you should aim to do as much physical activity as possible to help avoid joint pain. If you want to get more active but struggle with joint or muscle pain, then check out the resources below. Despite common concerns that physical activity may make the pain worse for those who suffer from MSK conditions, physical activity actually is a proven method of helping you manage and improve joint pain over time.

How can physical activity help?

For those living with MSK conditions, physical activity can:

  • Help you maintain a healthy weight - Joint pain can often be linked to being overweight as it puts stress on the joints. Regular physical activity will help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing joint issues later in life
  • Provide crucial nutrients to bones and joints - Some structures including the nerves and the discs of the spine need movement to get nutrients and remain healthy and strong
  • Strengthen muscles - Muscles get stronger the more they are worked and won't tire as easily over time.
  • Reduce flare ups - Research has shown that those who exercised regularly reported less inflammation and less regular flare-ups of joint pain
  • Contribute to an overall healthier lifestyle - Being active will help reduce stress levels, improve sleep and can also release endorphins which can help block pain signals from reaching the brain

Getting active with joint, bone and muscle pain: Where to start?

There are many possible causes of joint pain. It might be caused by an injury or a longer-lasting problem such as arthritis. Joint pain is common, especially as you get older, but living with pain doesn't mean you have to give up physical activity.

Some suitable physical activity suggestions for those living with MSK pains:

  • Start with low impact activity such as swimming and yoga and build up gradually
  • Cardiovascular activities to increase your heart rate like brisk walking, cycling and dancing
  • Strength activities to improve your resilience. This doesn't always mean weights in the gym, it can include carrying heavy shopping bags, gardening or rigorous cleaning!
  • Stretches from the Versus Arthritis 'Let's Move' series and mobility activities like Pilates and Tai Chi

Visit out Active Adults page for some inspiration, local activity opportunities and ways to get active at home.

Sometimes, poor posture or overuse at work is a cause of MSK pain. Visit our Wellbeing at Work page for advice on improving your health in the workplace.

We also have a dedicated section to Older Adults - whatever your age or health condition, there are plenty of ways you can move more.

3 top tips for keeping active with a MSK condition:

  1. Start gently and build up gradually - if you are new to activity build up slowly over 3-6 months. There may be activities you need to avoid or be careful with. There may also be some weeks when you have to do less. It is important not to suddenly start intense physical activity that you are not used to
  2. Try to be active everyday - a little is better than nothing. Listen to your body for how much you can do that day and make the most of your better days
  3. Reduce the amount of time spent sitting or lying down, even if it's getting up to make yourself a drink, every movement counts

Symptom specific advice: A temporary increase in pain is normal and does not represent tissue damage. It will stop once your body adapts.

For Healthcare Professionals

It's important to have conversations with those living with MSK pain about the importance of physical activity. Physical activity as a treatment for long-term health conditions is a consensus backed by rigorous evidence.

Our Active Medicine page supports local healthcare professionals with promoting the benefits of physical activity, including Physical Activity and Health training, E-Learning resources, and healthy conversation skills.

The fantastic Moving Medicine resource hosts step-by-step guides to have quality conversations with patients about physical activity for MSK Pain - from 1 - 5 minute conversation opportunities.

Versus Arthritis have launched a Let's Move for Surgery Toolkit - a set of brand new resources to support patients awaiting or recovering from joint replacement surgery. It can help patients to become fit to undergo the surgery itself and can lead to a faster recovery.

Resources for MSK pain

There are several local and national charities that can offer you expert advice on getting active with MSK pain. You can contact them direct. Remember - physical activity is safe, even for people living with symptoms of long-term conditions.

Meena's Story

Meena has Arthritis and says "The best part of swimming is the floating – the pressure off my knees is fantastic."

Meena's story shows that living with pain doesn't have to stop you from getting active. It's about adapting to your body. Find out more about Meena's story here and watch her video below.

Visit We Are Undefeatable for more information and inspiration on how you can get active.

You can also meet our Let's Get Moving Champions who share their inspirational stories on how they have stayed active this year!

You're performing the exercises linked from our website at your own risk.

Whilst every effort has been made to verify the information on the joint, bone and muscle page, Active Together is not responsible for the accuracy or content of external websites. Whilst taking part in physical activity, participants should ensure they take part at a level which is appropriate to them and their health and are responsible for ensuring they check the credentials and health and safety requirements for each activity. It is recommended that participants follow the Chief Medical Officers Guidelines for physical activity. Participants will choose to utilise these links and take part in activities at their own risk.