Helping our patients build back stronger – ‘Stronger My Way’

Loss of muscle strength is one of the hidden impacts of the pandemic, albeit one that might well be noticed if you work in primary care. Decreased activity levels, and increased sedentary behaviours caused by successive lockdowns, with working from home and the loss of everyday opportunities to strengthen, such as carrying the shopping home, all contributed.

For people living with a long-term condition, there has also been the difficulty in accessing health services, such as community rehabilitation, that previously enabled them to ward off deconditioning. This is of particular concern as we know that even pre-pandemic, less than 50 per cent of people with a health condition met the UK Chief Medical Officer’s physical activity guidelines, including the recommendation to strengthen on at least two days a week. And the consequences are becoming clear.

A survey of more than 2,000 Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) members revealed an average of six in every 10 patients were presenting with muscle loss due to the pandemic. Respondents said 75% of deconditioned patients were experiencing increased levels of depression and anxiety while 68% were experiencing a loss of independence. Two-thirds had a greater need for rehabilitation and 64% were experiencing more severe symptoms. 

We teamed up with Sport England and the Centre for Ageing Better to explore what could encourage people to do strengthening on a more regular basis – and what healthcare professionals could do to support that behaviour change. We spent a year speaking to people with lived experience about their beliefs, barriers and motivations when it came to strengthening.

Members and other key stakeholders explored what skills, knowledge and resources they felt they needed to have more effective consultations.

The result is ‘Stronger My Way’, a campaign launched by CSP, supported by National Lottery funding distributed by Sport England. Primary care services are ideally placed to start conversations that could lead to meaningful changes to the quality of life for huge numbers of people and Stronger My Way exists to support those interactions. The website has two entry points: one for professionals and one for patients.

A lack of confidence and knowledge were high among the barriers identified during the insight phase, along with a fear that strengthening – over and above physical activity more generally – was dangerous or not possible for someone with their condition. Encouragingly, however, there was an openness to strengthening, if endorsed by the healthcare professionals they trust. However, healthcare professionals emphasised a lack of time, a sense of feeling overwhelmed by how much information was out there and an unease with how best to discuss the topic.

With this in mind, the hub offers people with a long-term condition:

  • Introductory videos to get started with strengthening 
  • Articles delivering reassurance and advice that it is safe and beneficial for quality of life 
  • Relatable case studies of others who have benefited from getting stronger their way. 
  • Resources to help track progress and fit strengthening into their daily lives 

‘Stronger My Way’ offers clinicians:

  • The evidence for strengthening and the language to use when discussing it with patients
  • Signposting to the best training for behaviour change, motivational interviewing, health coaching and shared decision-making
  • Resources, such as videos and a goal-setting planner, to support conversations with patients
  • Guides and case studies on understanding health inequities and delivering cultural competent services. 

It’s hoped the campaign will make a big difference to the quality of conversations professionals have with patients about strengthening, and the quality of life that follows.

About the writer

Sara Hazzard is the assistant director of strategic communications at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.