Arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions are common, affecting an estimated 6.1 million Australians (28% of the total population) in 2011-12. Due to their diverse nature there is considerable variation in the prevalence, treatment and management, and quality of life of people with these conditions across life stages. This report describes how arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions affect people from five age groups: children (aged 0-15); young adults (aged 16-34); middle years (aged 35-64); older Australians (aged 65-79); and Australians aged 80 or over. Information is presented separately for the four major types of musculoskeletal conditions (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain/problems and osteoporosis) wherever possible.

Does prevalence of these conditions vary with age?

  • The prevalence of arthritis (including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of arthritis) increases steadily across life stages (from less than 1% in children aged 0-15 to 19% in people aged 35-64 and 51% in those aged 80 or over).
  • Other musculoskeletal conditions (including back problems such as disc disorders, back pain/problems not further defined, osteoporosis and other conditions) affect people more consistently across life stages (increasing from 2% in children to 12% in young people, before settling to 14-19% in those aged 35 or over).
  • The prevalence of osteoporosis increases sharply in those aged 65 and over (from 3% in people aged 35-64, to 12% in people aged 65-79 and 21% in those aged 80 or over).

Does treatment and management of these conditions vary with age?

  • Given the limited detailed information about the management of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions in primary health care, this report focuses on hospital data to examine disease management at the more severe end of the treatment spectrum.
  • In 2011-12, there were 494,228 hospitalisations for people with a principal diagnosis of musculoskeletal conditions, accounting for 5% of all hospitalisations, with rates increasing with age.
  • In 2011-12, 64,946 total joint replacements were performed on people aged 35 or over, with the highest rate of both knee and hip replacements being in people aged 65-79.
  • There have been large increases in the rate of joint replacements over the period 2002-03 to 2011-12 (37%), with a particularly large increase in the rate of knee replacements in the 35-64 age group (increasing by 75% in this group compared with 45% in people aged

65-79 and 33% in people aged 80 or over).

How do these conditions affect quality of life?

People with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions are more likely to report:

  • limitations in performing core activities (particularly self-care and mobility) than the overall population at all life stages
  • high or very high psychological distress compared with those without these conditions
  • experiencing mental disorders than those without these conditions, with the greatest relative risk being for affective disorders (depression) in all life stages, except for people aged 65-79 who had a relatively higher risk of having a substance use disorder.