Musculoskeletal (rheumatic) conditions (MSC) are common across Europe.  22% of adults in Europe have experienced long-term muscle, bone and joint problems; 32% had such symptoms limiting their activities in the previous week (Health in Europe Eurobarometer Report 2007).  They are the 7th leading cause of mortality and morbidity from Non Communicable Diseases in the WHO Europe region and the second most common complaint underlying long-term treatment, accounting for a quarter of all Europeans who are under long-term treatment (Health in Europe Eurobarometer Report 2007). They therefore incur major health care costs (Woolf 2004).

Musculoskeletal conditions are the biggest cause of physical disability; incur major social care costs and a major cause of lost productivity (Major and Chronic Diseases Report 2007).  They have a major influence on the rates of sickness absence in all Member States (Indicators for Monitoring Musculoskeletal Problems and Conditions Report 2003). Musculoskeletal conditions are the most common medical causes long-term absence with major consequences for society in terms of costs.

Their prevalence and associated disability increases with aging, obesity and lack of physical activity.  All these determinants are increasing across Member States.

Recommendations for the prevention and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions have been developed (European Action Towards Better Musculoskeletal Health Report 2004) but these are not being implemented equitably.  Studies have examined what is actually happening for the management of musculoskeletal conditions in different European countries and there is evidence of differences which will lead to different outcomes. For example, surveys across different European countries have shown different approaches by both people with musculoskeletal conditions and by physicians to the management of musculoskeletal pain (Woolf et al 2004).  There are also differences in rates of joint replacement surgery across different European countries (Merx et al 2003).

There is therefore a large and growing burden across all Member States; evidence of differences in care between Member States; and failure to implement evidence-based interventions that have enormous potential to reduce this burden.