There has been another rise in the number of people experiencing musculoskeletal (MSK) health problems in the UK.
According to latest ONS figures nearly a fifth of UK adults self-reported long-term musculoskeletal conditions in 2023. This accounts for 18.4 per cent of the adult population, an increase on the 17.6 per cent of people reporting these health problems in 2022.
Notably the prevalence of MSK conditions remained higher in women (20.9 per cent) compared to men (15.8 per cent). These conditions, encompassing a range of issues, including back pain, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, are now the leading cause of pain and disability in the UK. Additionally, they account for a substantial portion of sickness absences and productivity losses across the nation.
This surge in MSK conditions is playing a substantial role in the post-pandemic rise in economically inactive individuals due to long-term sickness. It underscores the impact of evolving working patterns and the mounting pressures on the National Health Service (NHS) on the overall health of the population.
Brett Hill, head of health and protection at prominent independent consultancy Broadstone, says these figures painted a worrying picture. “Musculoskeletal conditions are a significant contributor to disability and pain and remain a primary cause of workplace absenteeism. It’s not surprising to witness the prevalence of MSK conditions on the rise, given the shifting landscape of employment, particularly with the growth of remote work.”
Hill emphasized the urgent need for employers to prioritise the well-being of their employees, especially as NHS waiting lists continue to grow. “We’re witnessing a rising demand for occupational health services aimed at maintaining the fitness and health of employees within the workplace. Additionally, there’s an increasing interest in private healthcare options such as health cash plans and private medical insurance products.”
The rising economic inactivity resulting from chronic illnesses poses a dual challenge, dampening productivity and impacting business output. As the NHS grapples with addressing its backlog, employers are taking proactive steps to combat sickness and injury among their workforce. Supporting and encouraging these efforts is crucial in mitigating the broader impact of MSK conditions on both individuals and businesses.
Hill adds that this surge in musculoskeletal conditions in the UK is a pressing concern for employers and policymakers alike and underscores the need for proactive measures to support employee well-being, combat productivity loss, and alleviate the burden on the healthcare system.