Arthritis Research UK has launched a report exploring why it’s essential to consider musculoskeletal health when planning how our health system tackles multimorbidity.

Good musculoskeletal health underpins living well and independently with multimorbidity, however, musculoskeletal conditions are too often overlooked. This report sets out why musculoskeletal conditions must be included in future plans to address multimorbidity and makes seven clear recommendations for change.

Musculoskeletal conditions affect around 10 million people across the UK, and are often found in people with other long-term conditions. The report reveals that among people over 45 years with a major long-term condition, more than 30% also have arthritis. By age 65, almost half of people with a heart, lung or mental health problem also have arthritis. Conversely, 80% of people with osteoarthritis have at least one other long-term condition such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease or depression.

A number of challenges ahead

The report highlights the extent of the challenge ahead. By 2018, it’s expected that there will be 2.9 million people in the UK living with multimorbidity, a substantial increase from 1.9 million in 2008. Musculoskeletal conditions will be part of this trend, as their prevalence increases in an ageing population. In 2010, 4.7 million people were living with knee osteoarthritis in the UK, by 2035 this is likely to reach 8.3 million.

Dr Justin Varney, Lead for Adult Health, Public Health England, said: “People are living longer, but are also spending more years in poor health. Musculoskeletal conditions are the main cause of disability, ill health and sickness absence in England, and often go hand in hand with mental ill health.

“Action needs to come from a variety of places. Employers can prevent these issues by providing healthy environments, advice and support for staff – our musculoskeletal and mental health toolkits show how they can do this.”

Professor Peter Kay, National Clinical Director of Musculoskeletal Services in NHS England; comments: “We must work across systems to ensure we have the appropriate data collected and available to understand the numbers and requirements of people living with multiple long-term conditions.

“As this report points out, as we build metrics and tools to understand and improve quality of services for people with multiple long-term conditions, it’s critical that we include aspects such as pain and functional limitations, alongside capability to manage.”