The musculoskeletal health imperative

Your MSK health is more important than you think

Public Health England has published important guidance to help minimise musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions in adults across the UK.

Currently, 17.8 million people in the UK live with an MSK condition: that’s 28.9% of the population, or 7.7 million men and 10.1 million women.

Good MSK health is essential to help people function through life and fundamental to our health and wellbeing as we age. Yet sadly, while life expectancy has risen, many people are living for longer with poorer health - particularly those in deprived areas. The older a person is, the more likely they are to experience chronic diseases and disabilities - and often co-morbidities which include poor MSK health. The impact of this can be felt not only by the individual but by their partner, family, community and society as a whole.

It's important to start taking care of your health NOW

Each year, 20% of people in the UK see a doctor about an MSK problem. And it’s not something to be taken lightly:

  • Those in poor health, or those who maintain unhealthy lifestyles, are more likely to have MSK conditions
  • Fractures, which are often a consequence of a fall, are one of the most serious MSK problems seen in the older population
  • The pain and disability of poor MSK health can limit independence and the ability to participate in life
  • Only 59% of people of working age with an MSK condition are in work
  • People with MSK conditions are four times more likely to have depression
  • MSK problems are the second most common cause of sickness absence, surpassed only by absence due to minor illness such as cough and colds.

There's light at the end of the tunnel

There are several steps we can take maintain healthy productive lives, reduce the risk of developing MSK conditions and better manage our health:

  • Aim to take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, in bouts of at least 10 minutes or more
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight - people with a healthy weight are less likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee than those who are obese
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet to ensure good bone health to prevent osteoporosis in later life. Vitamin D and calcium are important for MSK health in maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles. People are advised to consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D in autumn and winter - or all year round if they have little or no exposure to the sun or are of ethnic minority origin. Speak to your GP if you have any queries on this
  • Stop smoking! It is associated with poorer development of the hip, spine and neck, lower bone mineral density among men as young as 18 to 20 and among post-menopausal women. It's also associated with more bone fractures and slower healing and with up to a 40% increase in the risk of hip fractures among men. It's also a significant cause of rheumatoid arthritis, especially among men and can also reduce the impact of treatment. Smokers and ex-smokers experience 60% more pain in the back, neck and legs and a 114% increase in disabling lower back pain. Just stop!
  • Look after your mental health - it can increase the likelihood of developing some MSK disorders such as back pain. MSK conditions can also have a significant impact on mental health, as living with a painful condition can lead to anxiety and depression; as mentioned, depression is four times more common among people in persistent pain.

Read the guidance

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