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Musculoskeletal Conditions

Please click on image to access IPH’s Musculoskeletal Conditions Briefing that was published in September 2012

IPH publishes new data that forecasts substantial increases over the next ten years in the number of people living with musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis and back pain.

Presentations from the launch at University of Limerick are available below.

Prof. Alan Donnelly
Dr. Norelee Kennedy
Prof. Kevin Balanda
Mr. Steve Barron


What are musculoskeletal conditions?

Musculoskeletal conditions (MSCs) are a group of diseases that affect the body’s bones, joints, muscles and the tissues that connect them. Common MSCs include back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and spinal disorders.

MSCs are the most common cause of severe long term pain and physical disability in developed countries. They significantly affect the psychosocial wellbeing of individuals as well as their families and carers. They are responsible for substantial costs to the health and social care system and the economy. They are a leading cause of absence from work and lost productivity at work.



MSCs comprise a diverse group of conditions. Some have a specific medical diagnosis (eg rheumatoid arthritis) but others have no clear medical diagnosis (eg back pain). Risk factors for the development and progression of MSCs include age, sex, family history, obesity, physical inactivity, injury and biomechanical occupational health issues.


Policy context

In the Republic of Ireland (RoI), the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) National Rheumatology Programme adopts a chronic disease model of care to rheumatic diseases and specifies aims in quality of services, access to services, and reduction of costs to the health and social care system and the economy. The HSE’s Strategy to Prevent Falls and Fractures in Ireland’s Ageing Population aims to improve the bone health of the whole population and includes best practice guidelines to prevent and manage osteoporosis.

In Northern Ireland (NI), the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s (DHSSPS) Living With Long Term Conditions: A Policy Framework provides an overarching context and direction for supporting people living with long term conditions. It focuses on how people can be supported to maintain and enhance their health and well-being and quality of life. DHSSPS’s Physical and Sensory Disability Strategy and Action Plan 2012-2015 aims to improve outcomes, services and support for people with a physical impairment that has an adverse effect on their ability to carry out everyday activities.

In addition, there is a wide body of occupational health and safety policy and EU directives for the prevention of work-related musculoskeletal problems.


IPH MSCs estimates and forecasts

IPH has estimated and forecast the number of adults with MSCs for the years 2010, 2015 and 2020.

In the Republic of Ireland, the data are based on the Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition (SLÁN) 2007 . The data describe the number of people who report that they have experienced doctor-diagnosed MSC in the previous 12 months:

  • Lower back pain or any other chronic back condition
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of the joints)
  • Osteoarthritis (arthrosis, joint degradation)

Data are  available by age and sex for each Local Health Office of the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic of Ireland.


In Northern Ireland, the data are based on the Health and Social Wellbeing Survey 2005/06 and Understanding Society 2009. The data describe the number of adults who:

  • Have ever consulted a doctor about back pain
  • Are currently receiving treatment for musculoskeletal problems (such as arthritis, rheumatism)
  • Have ever been told by a doctor or other health professional that they had have arthritis?

Data are available by age and sex for each Local Government District in Northern Ireland.


There are significant differences between the definitions used in RoI and NI and North-South comparisons are not valid. The RoI measures relate to specific MSCs in the previous 12 months that had been diagnosed by a doctor. The NI measures relate to doctor-consultations at any time in the past, doctor-diagnosis at any time in the past and current treatment.

Click here for details of the methods used to calculate the estimates and forecasts

Use the Health Well's Data Visualiser to explore or download the data (last updated September 2012)

View the musculoskeletal theme on the Health Well's Community Profiles.


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