People living in the South West who have knee pain or osteoarthritis are being asked to come forward to take part in a new study being led by researchers at the University of Bath and UWE Bristol in collaboration with the charity Versus Arthritis.

The researchers have developed a prototype smartphone app, ‘iKOALA’, which stands for intelligent Knee OsteoArthritis Lifestyle Application. The app encourages users to make incremental health and lifestyle changes to better manage symptoms. Connected to a Fitbit activity tracker, it tracks users’ physical activity levels and movement.

Osteoarthritis is a prevalent chronic condition and a leading cause of disability in the UK. Physical activity is considered the most effective non-pharmacological treatment for reducing symptoms and enhancing quality of life. However, people with hip and knee osteoarthritis generally have low levels of activity which can also exacerbate other health problems.

Current face-to-face rehabilitation options for osteoarthritis are effective, but they are also costly, and many patients struggle to access appropriate support. Existing digital interventions provide some resources for short-term rehabilitation, but lack flexibility, personalisation, and social support.

iKOALA is an effort to develop a more sustainable, long-term digital support mechanism for people with osteoarthritis. It has been designed to enable individuals to thrive by being personalised to their needs, by helping them to maintain physical activity levels and by drawing on social support networks.

To further develop the technology, the team now want people aged 18 and over who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis or who have experienced long-term knee pain, to come forward to take part in a 12-week study. Knee pain must not have arisen from a recent injury (e.g., from running) and individuals must be well enough to engage in some level of physical activity (e.g., moderate walking).

The study will involve individuals wearing a FitBit activity monitor around their wrist for the duration of the trial and also setting some physical activity goals. Participants will receive structured support via the app and also from the researchers involved.

They must have access to an Android smartphone to take part.

Project lead, Dr Rich Stevenson from the University of Bath’s Department for Health said: “Osteoarthritis is a really debilitating condition affecting growing numbers of people in the UK. We know that face-to-face rehabilitation is effective, but we also know that accessing appropriate support can be challenging for a variety of reasons.

“With iKOALA we want to support people living with this condition and provide tailored, structured support to help them better manage their symptoms. We know that in the years ahead, digital interventions such as this are going to be increasingly important, and we’d like people to help us test and refine what we’ve developed so that more people can be helped in the future.”

According to NICE approximately 8.5 million people have painful joints attributed to osteoarthritis. Learn more about osteoarthrosis from the charity partner on the iKOALA project, Versus Arthritis.