State of Musculoskeletal Health 2019

Introduction

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions such as arthritis and back pain affected an estimated 18.8 million people across the UK in 2017. They accounted for more than 22% of the total burden of ill health (morbidity) in the UK, and low back and neck were the biggest cause of ill health overall across all ages.1

We collect the best available data on the prevalence, risk factors, comorbidities, and impact of MSK conditions in the UK, so you can understand more about the people living with and affected by these conditions.

The State of Musculoskeletal Health is a resource for health professionals, policy makers, public health leads and anyone interested in MSK health. We believe that with the best information you can build awareness, make more informed decisions, feel more confident and ultimately help more people with MSK conditions.

For the full set of statistics, please download the full State of Musculoskeletal Health 2019 report (PDF, 1.5 MB).

Note-please refer to the full report for references.

What is the scale of the problem?

An infographic explaining that 18.8 million people had an MSK condition i the UK in 2017.

An infographic explaining the prevalence of MSK conditions in the UK in 2017.

An infographic explaining the prevalence of MSK conditions increase with age.

An infographic explaining the split of MSK conditions between men and women.

It is difficult to accurately determine how many people have arthritis only or arthritis and other MSK conditions in the UK. The data currently available on specific conditions comes from several different sources (e.g. modelled estimates, national surveys and registers) and is most often not routinely collected. We currently rely on the Global Burden of Disease study to provide us with an estimate of the total number of people with any MSK condition in the UK today. This estimate covers some of the most prevalent MSK condition including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, low back pain, neck pain, and other MSK conditions.

Condition specific estimates - United Kingdom

Inflammatory arthritis

Musculoskeletal pain

  • Over 8.75 million people ages 4 and over have sought treatment for osteoarthritis.17
  • Over 10 million people in the UK have persistent back pain.18
  • Between 1.7 to 2.8 million adults have fibromyalgia in the UK.19

Osteoporosis and fragility fractures

  • 3 million people have osteoporosis20
  • 500,000 fragility fractures occur each year. 21

Key factors affecting musculoskeletal health

Physical activity

Around one in four adults (16+) in the UK do less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week (inactive).10, 11, 22, 23 Inactive people are at increased risk of developing a painful MSK condition. Exercise generally reduces overall pain for people with a MSK condition.3

An infographic explaining 4 in 10 people who report living with a long-term condition are inactive.

 

Obesity

Musculoskeletal conditions are one of the biggest threats to the health of people who are obese. Over 6 in 10 adults (16+) in the UK are overweight or obese.10, 11, 22, 23 Obesity directly damages weight-bearing joints such as knees and hips because of the abnormally high loads they have to carry.33

An infographic explaining that 7 in 10 people who report living with a long-term MSK condition are overweight or obese.

 

Multimorbidity

The number of people living with two or more long term conditions (multimorbidity) is growing increasingly common. Musculoskeletal conditions are very common in multimorbidity. Nearly four in ten people with multimorbidity are living with a physical and a mental health condition.43, 44

Among people over 45 years of age in England who report living with a major long-term condition, more than 3 in 10 also have an MSK condition increasing to almost 5 in 10 people among those aged 65 plus.3

An infographic explaining that one in four people are living with two or more long-term conditions.

What is the impact?

Years lived with disability

An infographic explaining that 22% of the total burgen of ill health in the UK was accounted for by MSK conditions.

Work

People with MSK conditions are less likely to be in work than people without health conditions, and more likely to retire early. Around 63% of working age adults with an MSK condition are in work compared to 82% of people with no health condition.51 Being in good employment is protective of health. Conversely unemployment contributes to poor health.53

An infographic explaining that one in three working age people in the UK have a health condition.

Health and care services

People with MSK conditions are frequent users of primary, secondary, community based, and social services.

An infographic explaining one in five people consult a GP about an MSK problem in England.

Economy

Musculoskeletal ill health results in significant costs for individuals, employers, the health service, and the wider economy.

MSK conditions account for the third largest area of NH programme spending at £4.7 billion in 2013.

Many people with MSK conditions rely on welfare benefits to cover the extra cost.

  • Around 4 in 10 people*** in receipt of or entitled to Attendance Allowance in GB are recorded with an MSK condition as their primary disability condition.82
  • Around a third of people*** receiving Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in GB are recorded with an MSK condition as their primary disability condition.83
  • Nearly three out of ten (27%) people with arthritis are not aware of the welfare benefits they are entitled to.49

Economic benefits of musculoskeletal research

Investment into MSK research is money well spent. A new study estimating the returns generated by public and charitable investment for MSK research in the UK has found that research into MSK conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and back pain, not only results in improved health outcomes, but also generates economic gain for the UK.84

An infographic on the yearly return for £1 of public or charity investment.