Around five million working days are lost each year due to work-related arm pain, such as tennis elbow, tendonitis and repetitive strain injury.
Now a team at Aberdeen University have been awarded £640,000 from Arthritis Research UK to investigate whether patients do best when offered advice to keep active, or whether it's better for them to rest, while waiting for physiotherapy to start.
The trial will also test whether "fast-track" physiotherapy results in a long-term reduction in their lower arm pain compared to physiotherapy given at the time usually provided by the NHS "rarely quicker than six to eight weeks.
"Nearly half of all patients that go to their GP with arm pain had pain in their lower arm, and nearly half of these still reported having pain 12 months later," explained principal investigator Dr Gareth Jones, senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Aberdeen's School of Medicine and Dentistry.
"Although lower arm pain very common, and costly to treat, we don't know the best way to manage symptoms. Patients are often referred to have physiotherapy, advised to rest and to avoid activities that are thought to be harmful. In fact this approach might be counter-productive and it may be that people with these conditions need to remain active, as we now know is the case with back pain."
"This trial could play an important role in providing evidence for the best way to manage patients with arm pain. We want to make sure patients are given the best advice to reduce long-term pain and disability and may lead to faster recovery."
If the team find that physiotherapy given early is effective this would lend support to the government's drive to reduce waiting lists.
The trial is due to start shortly, and patients in Aberdeen, Bath, Cambridge, Southampton and Brighton, between the ages of 18 and 70, will be recruited from June.
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