Musculoskeletal conditions are the second largest contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain being the single leading cause of disability globally.
Musculoskeletal conditions and injuries are not just conditions of older age – they are relevant across the life-course. Between one in three and one in five people live with a painful and disabling musculoskeletal condition.
Musculoskeletal conditions significantly limit mobility and dexterity, leading to early retirement from work, reduced accumulated wealth and reduced ability to participate in social roles.
Musculoskeletal conditions comprise more than 150 diagnoses that affect the locomotor system – that is, muscles, bones, joints and associated tissues such as tendons and ligaments, as listed in the International Classification of Diseases. They range from those that arise suddenly and are short-lived, such as fractures, sprains and strains; to lifelong conditions associated with ongoing pain and disability.
Musculoskeletal conditions are typically characterised by pain (often persistent pain) and limitations in mobility, dexterity and functional ability, reducing people’s ability to work and participate in social roles with associated impacts on mental wellbeing, and at a broader level impacts on the prosperity of communities.
The most common and disabling musculoskeletal conditions are osteoarthritis, back and neck pain, fractures associated with bone fragility, injuries and systemic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Musculoskeletal conditions are prevalent across the life-course and most commonly affect people from adolescence through to older age. The prevalence and impact of musculoskeletal conditions is predicted to rise as the global population ages and the prevalence of risk factors for noncommunicable diseases increases, particularly in low- and middle-income settings.
Musculoskeletal conditions affect people across the life-course in all regions of the world. While the prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions increases with age, younger people are also affected, often during their peak income-earning years.