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Report in the Lancet

March 11, 2013 7:42 PM
In http://www.arthritiscare.org.uk

Musculoskeletal conditions are the greatest cause of disability in the UK according to a report published in The Lancet on 5th March 2013.

A landmark study of the burden of all diseases (The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010) provides indisputable evidence that musculoskeletal conditions are an enormous and increasing problem in the UK as well as globally and, Arthritis Care believes, need to be given the same priority for policy and resources as other major conditions like cancer, mental health and cardiovascular disease.

In particular, the report found that musculoskeletal disorders account for nearly one third of the entire burden of disability in the UK, which is increasing rapidly as a proportion of the overall burden of disease due to our ageing population. Low back pain is the single biggest cause of disability, followed closely by osteoarthritis.

Although health care cost and activity data confirm that these conditions consume massive UK health system resources, concerted public health and high quality integrated medical care strategies are not implemented systematically.

Interventions are available for musculoskeletal disorders but the report found that it is unclear to what extent the health system is delivering on this potential. Musculoskeletal disorders will only increase in importance given current trends and require more urgent policy attention.

Media coverage of this report may well focus on premature deaths, and particularly on the impact of smoking and alcohol. However, the growing burden of disability, particularly from musculoskeletal disorders, falls and mental disorders, deserves an integrated and strategic response. More individuals are living into the period of life where the prevalence of chronic disabling conditions is high. It is also very marked that, taken together, diet and physical inactivity have an increasing impact on disability in later life as well as life expectancy. It is so important, both as a way of preventing some forms of arthritis and, once acquired to keep mobility and reduce levels of pain, that people follow a balanced diet and take some form of suitable regular exercise.

Calling the Arthritis Care Helpline free on 0808 800 4050 from anywhere in the UK for information on prevention and care & treatment is also a key step to take.

Professor Anthony Woolf, Chair of the Bone and Joint Decade (BJD) International Co-ordinating Council, from the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, UK, said: 'Health policy across the world has ignored diseases which affect the quality of lives and independence of people living with them and focused on those with high mortality such on cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Now with people living longer it is time for priority to be placed on dealing with this enormous burden from arthritis, back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions to prevent unnecessary pain and disability and enable people to keep independent. Despite effective ways of preventing and treating these conditions, many people do not have access to them because they are not a priority. This data justifies what the BJD has been campaigning for over the past ten years.'

Ann Heaton, Chair of Arthritis Care said: 'Here is yet more expert evidence that the UK is lagging behind in the care and treatment of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, something we see and hear about from people on a daily basis. There is no doubt that government and statutory services could and should help to improve things, but there is much that people can do to help themselves in better managing their lives with arthritis. Putting in that call to Arthritis Care is the first important step to finding the information and support needed.'

Click here to visit The Lancet for articles and comment related to the study.


Musculoskeletal conditions include joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis; back and neck pain; osteoporosis and fragility fractures; soft tissue rheumatism; injuries due to sports and in the workplace; and trauma commonly related to road traffic accidents.

  • They cause pain, physical disability and loss of personal and economic independence
  • They affect some 10 million people of all ages in the UK
  • They are the greatest cause of disability, as measured by years lived with disability (YLDs) in the UK (Lancet 5 March 2013) and second greatest worldwide (Lancet 15 December 2012)
  • As a group musculoskeletal disorders cause 31.3% of all years lived with disability (YLDs) (mental and behavioural disorders are second accounting for 21.1% of YLDs
  • They have the third greatest impact on the health of the UK population, considering both death and disability (Lancet 5 March 2013)
  • Disability due to musculoskeletal disorders is increasing due to ageing of the population, increased obesity and lack of physical activity.
  • Disability due to musculoskeletal conditions can be effectively prevented by currently available interventions, such as accident prevention, modern treatment of arthritis and injuries, and by rehabilitation.
  • The growing burden can be controlled if priority and resources are given to ensure access to these interventions.