I am writing this on International Women’s Day, thinking about the many different facets of inequalities in musculoskeletal health. Deprivation is one of the most significant drivers, which is why we have chosen to focus our inquiry on deprivation. However, we know there are other factors including ethnicity, age, sex and gender.
Women are disproportionately affected by MSK conditions: 35% of women compared with 28% of men experience an MSK condition, (Versus Arthritis). So I was pleased that the Women’s Health Ambassador recently organised a roundtable about the women’s health strategy for England and MSK health. Women’s higher risk of osteoporosis is an obvious example, but there is more to sex equality and MSK health than that.
A recent study by NASS showed that women wait an average of 2 years longer than men for a diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis (axial SpA). They are also likely to have a worse experience of healthcare than men, and were less likely to be believed by health care professionals when they spoke about their symptoms.
The roundtable spent some time discussing prevention and physical activity. We know that women are less likely than men to be active. Physical activity is hugely important in MSK health, so we are not going to be able to address women’s MSK health unless we also address the barriers they face to keeping active. This Girl Can has recently launched a campaign to remove the barriers that prevent women enjoying sport and activity. The enjoyment gap identifies four action areas to make being active social, safe, self-affirming and suitable for women.
Everyone should have the best chance of good MSK health and access to quality, timely treatments and support when they need it. The reasons this is not the case are complex and multi-faceted. We have to focus our efforts to be effective, but we cannot forget the wider context and the intersections between different drivers of inequality. So, I encourage you to engage with our inquiry into MSK inequalities and deprivation. I also encourage you to consider what else needs to be done to ensure our vision of good MSK health for all can become a reality.