Arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions are highly prevalent, affecting almost 1 in 3 Australians. Although the conditions are rarely fatal, they are large contributors to illness, pain and disability. Compared with the general population, people with musculoskeletal conditions have higher rates of poor health, very high psychological distress and very severe pain.

These conditions are predominantly managed in primary health care settings by a range of health professionals. Treatment involves a combination of medication (for pain and inflammation); physiotherapy; self-management (such as diet and exercise); education on self-management and living with the condition; and referral to specialist care.

In 2015–16, an estimated 11% ($12.5 billion) of recurrent disease expenditure in the Australian health system was attributed to the Musculoskeletal conditions group (AIHW 2019). 

The Disease Expenditure in Australia study found Musculoskeletal conditions (MSK) to be the group with the highest expenditure in 2015–16 for all persons. While MSK was the condition group with the highest disease expenditure for all persons, it was the second highest for males and females respectively. For males this was Cardiovascular diseases ($5.7 billion) and females Reproductive and maternal conditions ($6.9 billion) (AIHW 2019).

Common musculoskeletal conditions

Back pain and problems are caused by numerous factors, including muscle strain or displacement of an intervertebral disc. These may result from an underlying illness or injury.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition affecting weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees and ankles as well as the hands and spine. In the initial stages pain occurs in the joints during and after activity, but as the condition progresses pain may be experienced from minimal movement or during rest.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease causing chronic inflammation of the joints. It most commonly affects the hand joints and can lead to deformities of the hands.

Osteoporosis is a condition where there is a progressive loss of bone density and decrease in the strength of the skeleton with a resultant risk of fracture.

Juvenile arthritis refers to the types of arthritis occurring in children aged under 16. It may cause significant pain, disability and restrictions in school and other activities.

Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops when an excess of uric acid in the blood leads to deposits of uric acid crystals in one or more joints, causing inflammation.


AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Disease expenditure in Australia. Cat. no. HWE 76. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 13 June 2019.