by 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.