Musculoskeletal conditions, such as various forms of arthritis and back pain and problems, are common long-term conditions affecting the bones, muscles and connective tissues. These conditions contribute substantially to the disease burden within the Australian population. Burden of disease analysis measures the combined impact of living with illness and injury (non-fatal burden) and dying prematurely (fatal burden). This report presents detailed information on the disease burden due to musculoskeletal conditions by age, sex, population groups and over time using data from the Australian Burden of Disease Study (ABDS) 2011.

Musculoskeletal conditions contributed 12% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia in 2011, a total of 521,286 disability-adjusted life years (DALY), and were ranked as the fourth leading contributor to total burden after cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and mental and substance use disorders. While nearly one-quarter (23%) of the total non-fatal burden in 2011 was due to musculoskeletal conditions, they contributed less than 1% of the total fatal burden.

The total burden due to musculoskeletal conditions was higher among females compared with males and generally increased with age to be highest among people aged 60–64. After accounting for population increase and ageing, there was a 15% reduction in the total burden from 26 DALY per 1,000 people in 2003 to 22 DALY per 1,000 people in 2011.

The burden due to musculoskeletal conditions varied by condition and disease severity

Back pain and problems contributed just under one-third (31%) of the total burden of all musculoskeletal conditions, followed by osteoarthritis (17%), rheumatoid arthritis (16%) and gout (0.8%). The group ‘other musculoskeletal conditions’, including juvenile arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, contributed more than one-third (35%) of the total burden.

For osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, the non-fatal burden was mostly due to severe and moderate cases of each disease. For back pain and problems, severe cases contributed the most to the non-fatal burden.

Population groups experienced different levels of musculoskeletal burden

In 2011, the rate of total burden due to musculoskeletal conditions was generally:

similar across the states and territories, although the rate in Tasmania was 20% higher than the national rate

higher among people living in Very remote areas and Inner regional areas, compared with other remoteness areas

higher among people living in areas of the lowest socioeconomic group, compared with other socioeconomic groups

higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared with non-Indigenous Australians, with the exception of burden of back pain and problems, which was lower among Indigenous Australians.

Some of the burden can be attributed to modifiable risk factors

In 2011, around 17% of the total burden due to back pain and problems was attributed to occupational exposures and hazards; and 45% of the burden due to osteoarthritis was attributed to overweight and obesity.