We conducted a pilot study of a nurse-run telephone self-management programme for elderly people with osteoarthritis (OA). Thirty-two subjects, aged 60 years or more, with a diagnosis of OA were recruited from two hospital rheumatology clinics and were randomized to a control or intervention group. The intervention group received six weekly mailings of OA health education modules, a relaxation audio-tape and six weekly 45 min follow-up telephone self-management sessions. There was a 100% compliance rate in the intervention group, and all subjects completed baseline and three-month interviews; one subject in each group was lost to six-month follow-up. There were no significant differences in self-management between the control and intervention groups. However, at three months there were improvements in the intervention group (relative to baseline) on some outcome measures. The results suggest that the telephone may be a useful tool for reinforcing health-promoting activities for patients.