Musculoskeletal health

What are musculoskeletal conditions?

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions affect many people and can affect your joints, bones and muscles and sometimes associated tissues such as your nerves. They can range from minor injuries to long-term conditions.

Over 20 million people in the UK, almost one third of the population, have a MSK condition such as arthritis or back pain. Symptoms can include pain, stiffness, limited movement, and disability which affect quality of life and independence.

Further medical information for patients and carers about symptoms and treatment is available at NHS UK.

Why is musculoskeletal health important?

Poor MSK health has a huge impact on people, their employers, the NHS and the wider economy. In fact, over 30 million working days are lost due to MSK conditions every year in the UK and they account for up to 30% of GP consultations in England.

People are living longer with complex MSK conditions – for many people a longer life will mean more years spent in ill health. By 2030, over 15.3 million people in the UK will be over 65 years of age, resulting in an ever-increasing demand on MSK services.

MSK conditions are more common in areas of greater poverty and may affect some ethnic groups more than others. If you suffer from a MSK condition how you access and experience care can also vary.

These long-term challenges existed before the pandemic and were outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan. The pandemic has exacerbated these, with many people now waiting longer for treatment.

What is the NHS doing to improve care and outcomes for people living with musculoskeletal conditions?

A collaborative approach involving everyone in MSK health is needed to ensure that people in minority groups and those living in deprived areas have the same levels of access to high quality MSK services as the rest of population, and to improve access outcomes and experience for all.

In 2021, a programme of work was established to improve MSK health for all – helping people to be active and grow, work and age well. This national programme works with those with direct lived experience, patient groups and organisations representing MSK clinicians so that the people who are delivering care and those who are receiving that care, are central to how services will look in the future.

Resources for healthcare professionals

Visit the Best MSK Health Collaborative platform on Future NHS to access a range of resources.

MSK digital playbook – how to use digital ways of working to improve outcomes for patients.

Decision support tools– also called patient decision aids, these support shared decision making (SDM) by making treatment, care and support options explicit, providing evidence-based information about the associated benefits and risks, and helping patients to consider what matters most to them in relation to the possible outcomes, including doing nothing.

Best Practice Library – Getting It Right First Time – GIRFT

MRI spinal leaflet for clinicians – aimed at reducing unwarranted variation in requests for MRI scans for spinal conditions and developed by spinal clinicians in collaboration with lived experience partners, this supports clinicians when considering whether an MRI scan is appropriate. A patient leaflet is also available.

Guide to implementing patient initiated follow-up (PIFU) in adult trauma and orthopaedic secondary care pathways.

Guide to adopting remote consultations in adult musculoskeletal physiotherapy services.

Musculoskeletal orthopaedic approach to referral optimisation.

Resources for patients and carers

For medical information on musculoskeletal conditions and treatment, visit our patient website

Decision support tools

MRI spinal leaflet for patients – aimed at reducing unwarranted variation in requests for MRI scans for spinal conditions and developed by spinal clinicians in collaboration with lived experience partners this supports patients when considering whether an MRI scan is appropriate and interpreting the scan report. A clinician leaflet is also available.

Resources for integrated care care systems

An improvement framework to reduce community musculoskeletal waits while delivering best outcomes and experience