Feeling the ache? Australians most likely to experience joint pain

A new study shows Australians have the highest burden of musculoskeletal conditions of 183 countries across the world and that healthcare systems tend to overlook these conditions because they’re rarely fatal and largely irreversible. Source: Getty

Aching joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments can significantly impact the quality of life for people with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions and while the pain isn’t always visible, new research highlights just how debilitating these conditions really are.

MSK conditions are now the second leading global cause of years lived with a disability, behind stroke and heart disease. They’re also the 19th cause of early death globally, and the recent analysis of 183 countries found that Australians have the highest burden of MSK pain.

The study, published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases Journal, shows there’s been a sharp rise in the number of MSK diagnoses since the year 2000 but that healthcare systems tend to overlook MSK conditions because they’re rarely fatal and largely irreversible.

Researchers aimed to analyse the true extent of MSK conditions worldwide and their impact on illness and death by using Global Health Estimates data for the causes of 23 different categories of disability for 183 countries from the World Health Organisation from the year 2000 to 2015.

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The study also calculated disability adjusted life years (DALYs) – the sum of years of potential life lost due to premature death and the years of productive life lost due to disability. Researchers noticed a significant increase in MSK DALYs since the year 2000, increasing by 30 per cent from 80.2 million in 2000 to 107.8 million in 2015. In the same period, years of productive life lost increased from 2.8 million to 4.1 million.

Australia had the highest proportion of DALYs due to MSK diseases with 9.8 per cent of total DALYs. Europe’s average DALYs caused by MSK conditions was 6.5 per cent, compared to 4.5 per cent in the Americas, just over 4 per cent in Asia and 1.3 per cent in Africa. The country with the lowest proportion of MSK DALYs in 2015 was Somalia with just 0.6 per cent.

In addition to the pain these conditions cause people, there’s also a financial impact on countries, particularly where aches and pains prevent people from working. Researchers believe an ageing population is partly behind the increase and that socioeconomic background can impact MSK disease burden.

Due to the study being observational, researchers weren’t able to establish the cause of MSK disease, but stressed the global burden has increased since the start of the millennium.

“These results are crucial to rheumatologists, and to policy makers and national healthcare systems to implement future adjustments to health plans,” the authors wrote.

It’s always important to talk to a doctor or health professional about the best ways of managing musculoskeletal pain.

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Do you suffer from aching joints or musculoskeletal conditions? Do you feel health professionals help you manage these conditions?

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