Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis
University of Nottingham

Action needed to halt the growing global impact of arthritis

Published by Arthritis Research UK | 31 October 2016

Lower back and neck pain continue to be the leading cause of disability around the world and the impact of osteoarthritis is increasing, with a new study revealing that more must be done to prevent arthritis and support people with these painful, disabling conditions.

Global burden of musculoskeletal conditions

A new analysis of data produced by the Global Burden of Disease study has shown that over the last 25 years, lower back and neck pain have consistently been the leading cause of years lived with disability (YLD) globally, with the impact of other musculoskeletal conditions also increasing. For example, osteoarthritis has grown from being the 19th most common cause of YLD in 1990 to become the 13th most common in 2015.

Further new data, based on disability adjusted life years (DALYs) - a measure that reflects both life-years lost and YLDs - also shows the increasing impact of musculoskeletal conditions on health worldwide. Low back and neck pain are now the fourth most common cause of global DALYs, having risen from 12th place in 1990. Osteoarthritis alone is now the 13th most prominent cause of DALYs, up from 19th in 1990.

People spending more years living with illness and disability

The findings on musculoskeletal conditions are part of a wider trend revealed by the research. Although healthy life expectancy has increased steadily between 1990 and 2015 in 191 out of 195 countries included in the study - by 6.1 years - it has not risen as much as overall life expectancy, which has increased by 10.1 years. This means that, overall, people are living for longer with illness and disability.

Over time, the burden of ill health measured in DALYs across the world has shifted from communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional disorders to disabling non-communicable diseases. These types of ill health include conditions such as osteoarthritis, as well as drug use disorders, hearing and vision loss. This shift is mainly due to increases in population numbers and ageing, and has significant implications for health systems.

Arthritis Research UK's view

Tracey Loftis, head of policy and public affairs at Arthritis Research UK, said: "This new data clearly demonstrates the impact of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions around the world. Here in the UK, around ten million people have a musculoskeletal condition, and we expect that numbers of people affected will grow due to rising levels of obesity, physical inactivity and an ageing population.

Arthritis may not kill, but it attacks what it means to live. However, it is not inevitable. We know that maintaining a healthy body weight and engaging in physical activity can reduce the impact of arthritis. The government must do more to help people maintain good musculoskeletal health and to stop musculoskeletal conditions getting worse when they do develop.

Programmes to promote appropriate physical activity and services to tackle obesity would help to halt the growing burden of these painful, disabling conditions.

Global Burden of Disease data

The Global Burden of Disease study is the most comprehensive worldwide study of the burden of ill health. It describes mortality (death) and morbidity (illness) due to major diseases, injuries and risk factors to health at global, national and regional levels. This project brings together 1,870 independent experts in 127 countries and territories.

The latest analysis of data in this series, published in October 2016, looks at trends from 1990 to the present and highlights the changing health challenges facing people across the world in the 21st century. It gives governments and key partners the evidence they need to identify national health challenges and priorities for intervention.

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Posted on Tuesday 1st November 2016