Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions are large contributors to illness, pain and disability in Australia. Highly prevalent, they place a significant burden on the community, both economic and personal, including the use of hospital and primary care services, disruptions to daily life, and lost productivity through disability.

More than 6.1 million Australians are reported to have arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition. Most commonly reported conditions are back pain and various forms of arthritis. Almost 1.2 million Australians are reported to have disability associated with arthritis and related disorders. Activity limitation is reported for a range of tasks. Mobility limitation is one of the major features of arthritis associated disability.

In view of this large disease burden—the number of people affected and the high disability impact—arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions were declared a National Health Priority Area (NHPA) in July 2002. The initial focus of this initiative is on osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

A National Action Plan (NAP) has been developed by the National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions Advisory Group (NAMSCAG) to reduce the burden of disease and disability associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, and to improve the health-related quality of life.

This report has been developed to generate baseline information in accordance with the National Action Plan. The rather incomplete picture of the state of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions given in this report largely reflects the limitations and quality of the available data.