The demographic challenges of an aging workforce and a growing group of older people who are not self-reliant threaten public welfare funding, and result in work disability, and reduced physical activity and quality of life for individuals. Importantly, many of the trajectories of musculoskeletal health are set early in life and can be influenced by socioeconomic status and occupational demands. Muscle and joint disorders are one of the main causes of sickness absence and are most common in the occupational sectors with high physical demands where the employees’ work ability depends on healthy muscles and joints.
Musculoskeletal complaints have traditionally not been high on the research and health policy agendas, despite their being so common and costly. One of the main reasons for failing to recognise the size of this problem may be that muscle and joint disease is not considered life- threatening. Often those affected suffer in silence, but for many, their condition is devastating. The visibility of these complaints is usually not as obvious, and hence does not attract the attention of the broader society, in general, and the potential funding bodies, in particular. Despite 15% of the Danish health care budget being spent on caring for those with musculoskeletal disease, less than one per cent of the overall public research funding in the last five years has gone to research into musculoskeletal disease.
An active lifestyle is linked to healthy muscles and joints. Even from an early age, people with activity limitation due to pain in muscles and joints experience higher rates of other chronic illnesses and have higher mortality compared with the general population. At any age, muscle and joint disease often limits physical activity, thereby increasing the risk of other lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Conversely, these lifestyle diseases are major risk factors for poor musculoskeletal health. So, poor musculoskeletal health can therefore be a precursor or potentiator for other comorbidities, or the result of other comorbidities. Therefore, it is an important determinant in a cycle of poor health, indicating the importance of effective musculoskeletal treatment as a means to influence the broad health status of an individual with chronic illness.
Prevention, early detection, and effective treatment are key elements in slowing progression of muscle and joint disorders. For strategies to be effective, interventions need to target individuals in different occupational and socio-economic contexts across the whole lifespan. The solution lies in an explicit interaction between individuals, the health care system, workplaces and municipalities.
Therefore, there is a need for more patient and public involvement, shared decision-making, coordination, information, self-help, motivation and other early interventions that can be activated when pain and disability start. Ideally this would occur before a person gets a diagnosis and becomes a patient. Interventions can be very effective when they are targeted at people in places like schools and workplaces. Importantly, this could also occur in primary care, when people with muscle and joint disease first make contact with the health care system.