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Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health – GMUSC

ADWoolf-x200_nlby Professor Anthony Woolf, Chair of ARMA and Chair of the Bone and Joint Decade: A Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health

Musculoskeletal conditions continue to be the greatest cause of disability in the UK according to the Global Burden of Disease study [click for summary], accounting for 30%. Low back pain is the greatest specific cause of disability and osteoarthritis is increasing with ageing of the population and increasing obesity. We, the MSK community, have always known the impact these problems have on people and society but now policy makers cannot escape from the facts and have to come up with policies to prevent and manage them more effectively.

The drivers for political action are not just numbers of years lived with disability due to MSK conditions but the economic impact this has due to loss of work and independence. People are living longer and need to be able to work into older ages and maintain their independence. But with ageing physical function declines and people collect long-term conditions like children collected postage stamps. Society cannot afford to look after them. 

It needs to be recognised that musculoskeletal health is essential to general health and well-being and more invested in maintaining it. Promoting physical activity and ideal body weight is important but the gain for musculoskeletal health needs to be more transparent – people think it the main danger from obesity is diabetes but the risk of OA is just as great. We need other solutions to offer the policy makers to reduce the future burden. We know a lot of the “whats”, like early diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis, but we need more examples of the “how” to demonstrate how it can be achieved in a cost-effective way.

We also have to work as an MSK community as no individual person or group can deal with the spectrum of MSK conditions and deliver the integrated care many need. The burden of disease data along with the current political context gives us a great opportunity to present ourselves as a community with solutions to offer – at last policy makers are asking for this and we have to meet the need.

Findings of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, from the Lancet.
More about the Bone and Joint Decade, including recent posts.

BJD-bannerKey dates and activities during BJD Action week 12th to 20th October 2015 are:

Monday 12th October               World Arthritis Day (WAD)

‘It’s in your hands, take action’ – EULAR PARE are asking people to take action for WAD share virtual High 5s on social media, using the hashtag #WADHigh5.

Lots of other activities are also running, see for full details.


Friday 16th October                  World Spine Day

With back pain and neck pain one of the most common reasons for sick leave from work the focus of the day is helping people to maintain good spinal health and prevent workplace injuries. Take a photo of “your back at work” demonstrating a healthy spine habit and share using #spineselfie, #worldspineday.

See for more details and download these tips on how to keep your back healthy.


Tuesday 20th October             World Osteoporosis Day  

Show your support by wearing white on World Osteoporosis Day. The National Osteoporosis Society are also running a campaign to encourage people to buy special orange laces, put them in their trainers, walking boots and shoes, and to get active in order to keep their bones healthy and strong.

Find out more at and please share with friends, colleagues and family using the #laceupforbones. The charity are also running three free ‘Tie’ Chi events in Bath, Nottingham and Portsmouth which will include a flash mob of orange lace wearers.

BJD-squareThe Bone & Joint Decade is moving forward by renaming itself The Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health. This better represents what it is – organisations coming together in countries around the world to make musculoskeletal health a priority. It continues to be led by an International Coordinating Council with networks of organisations working together at a national level around the world. ARMA is the National Alliance for the UK and acts as an exemplar of what is needed in each country.

National Alliances such as ARMA are the formal voting members of the Global Alliance but regional and international organisations will be able to join the Alliance so that we can all work together on the common mission of gaining priority for musculoskeletal health. The first Annual General Meeting of the Global Alliance will be held in Oslo at the time of the World Network Conference, 8th and 9th October 2015. For further information see

Influential global alliance calls on governments and the World Health Organisation to prioritise musculoskeletal health following findings of Global Burden of Disease Study (2010)

The Bone and Joint Decade (BJD), the only organisation that brings together stakeholders considering all musculoskeletal conditions, calls for urgent action to “keep people moving” and reduce the burden of disability.

Musculoskeletal conditions are the second greatest cause of disability globally according to a report by international experts, published in The Lancet on 15th December 2012.  In the first comprehensive study of the worldwide impact of all diseases and risk factors, musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions such as arthritis and back pain affect over 1.7 billion people worldwide, and have the fourth greatest impact on the overall health of the world population, considering both death and disability.  This burden has increased by 45% over the last 20 years and will continue to do so unless action is taken.

This landmark study of the global burden of all diseases provides indisputable evidence that musculoskeletal conditions are an enormous and emerging problem in all parts of the world and need to be given the same priority for policy and resources as other major conditions like cancer, mental health and cardiovascular disease.

Professor Anthony Woolf, from the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, UK and Chair of the Bone and Joint Decade (BJD) International Co-ordinating Council, said: “Across the world, health policy has ignored diseases which affect the quality of lives and independence of people living with them and focused on those with high mortality such as infectious diseases, and more recently on cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Now 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. 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.”

This call is echoed by the Professor Christopher Murray and the authors of the study who say that “health systems will need to address the needs of the rising numbers of individuals with a range of conditions that largely cause disability, not mortality”.  The Global Burden of Disease 2010 Project is led by Professor Christopher Murray, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Seattle, the World Health Organisation and involves researchers from around the world.

Leader of the MSK Expert Group, Lyn March, University of Sydney, Australia said: “This data provides the clearest evidence to date of the huge and increasing burden on global health from musculoskeletal conditions. It shows that lower back pain is the leading cause of disability and osteoarthritis is one of the fastest growing conditions. We need clear action to reverse this situation and to keep people moving and living without pain and disability.”

Professor Alan Silman, Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK: “Our Chief Medical Officer’s recent annual report highlighted osteoarthritis as a generally unrecognised public health priority.  “Today’s study provides a much needed picture of musculoskeletal conditions internationally, in an area which has been acknowledged as data poor.”

Federico Moscogiuri, Director of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA), said, “This latest data provides a compelling case for making musculoskeletal disorders a national health priority, particularly at a time when the NHS is required to do “more for less” and make services much more patient-centred.  When it comes to improving public health, providing cost-effective care and keeping people with long-term conditions independent and in work, the treatment and management of musculoskeletal disorders is clearly where the big wins are, and that’s where the attention needs to be.”

Dr Brian Hammond, Chairman of BackCare, said, “This reaffirms BackCare’s mission to decrease the impact of back and neck pain on society by providing preventative advice to individuals and industry, as well as help and information for those already afflicted with spinal problems.”

Since the launch in 2000, the Bone and Joint Decade has done much to change priorities by identifying the effect these conditions have on people and on society.  “Now we need actions by policy makers to prioritise preventing and treating these conditions to avoid people having unnecessary disability and pain,” Professor Woolf concludes.

The Bone and Joint Decade is calling for urgent action by the World Health Organisation, the United Nations, and by national governments and for explicit plans to respond to the Global Burden of Disease 2010 results and the new ranking which shows that musculoskeletal conditions have an enormous and growing impact in all regions of the world.

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

Click here to visit the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the organisation responsible for the study, where you can also see related charts, graphs, data and discussion of the GBD study.

Please share this article with your organisation and colleagues.



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 millions of people of all ages in all cultures and in all countries
  • Current estimates of people affected worldwide (Lancet 15 December 2012)
  • Back pain    632.045 million
  • Neck pain    332.049 million
  • OA knee     250.785 million
  • Other musculoskeletal conditions    560.978 million
  • They are the second greatest cause of disability, as measured by years lived with disability (YLDs) worldwide and across most regions of the world (Lancet 15 December 2012)
  • As a group musculoskeletal disorders cause 21.3% of all years lived with disability (YLDs)  (this is second only to mental and behavioural disorders which account for 22.7% of YLDs)
  • The main contributors are low back pain (83.1 million YLDs), neck pain (33.6 million YLDs), osteoarthritis (17.1 million YLDs) and the other musculoskeletal category. Osteoarthritis of the knee accounts for 83% of the osteoarthritis total.
  • The leading cause of disability worldwide are low back pain contributing 10.7% of total YLDs (major depression contributes 8.1%).
  • They have the fourth greatest impact on the health of the world population, considering both death and disability (DALYs) (Lancet 15 December 2012)
  • Musculoskeletal disorders account 6.8% DALYs
  • Low back pain accounts for nearly one half, neck pain one fifth, and osteoarthritis about 10%.
  • Ranking of major causes of death and disability (% DALYs)
  • Cardiovascular and circulatory diseases 11.8%
  • All neoplasms 7.6%
  • Mental and behavioural disorders 7.4%
  • Musculoskeletal disorders 6.8%
  • Disability due to musculoskeletal disorders is estimated to have increased by 45% from 1990 – 2010 (Lancet).  Osteoarthritis is the fastest increasing major health condition.  This relates 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.


Click here to read more posts related to the Bone and Joint Decade