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Disability and musculoskeletal problems

How often is disability caused by musculoskeletal problems?

It has been reported that arthritis and musculoskeletal problems are powerful predictors of significant disability1. As a pointer to those who are the most severely disabled are data on those who are eligible to receive a disability living allowance (DLA). This is a benefit for people who are so disabled, have personal care needs, mobility needs or both and who claim before their 65th birthday. The most common condition resulting in people receiving DLA is ‘arthritis’ representing 18% of all recipients equivalent to half a million people aged under 65. A further 7% of people receive DLA for muscle/bone/joint disease. This represents around £48 million/week for DLA for arthritis and muscle/joint/bone disease combined.

What is the contribution of arthritis to the UK burden of disability?

 Condition   Receiving DLA  Percentage
 Arthritis  514,410  18%
 Mental health causes  482,630  16%
 Learning difficulties  280,230  10%
 Back ailments  222,850  8%
 Muscle/bone/joint disease  219,410  7%
 Heart disease  134,290  5%
 Stroke related  93,390  3%
 Chest disease  84,460  3%


The social and economic impact of musculoskeletal disorders also needs to take account of the working days lost in those who are employed. Working days will be lost if the condition is either caused by work or is aggravated by continuing in the same task. Data from the Health and Safety Executive indicate that in 2006/07 1,144,000 people in Great Britain suffered from a musculoskeletal disorder caused or made worse by their current or past work equating to 2.7% of people who have ever worked in Great Britain3.

Data from the Labour Force survey over the last 5 years indicated that on average 10 million days were lost due to musculoskeletal disorders every year, second only to stress, depression and anxiety4. The average annual days lost per case in 2006/7 was 16.7 days with 0.46 days lost per worker (see table below). In the UK, it is estimated that the total cost to the nation of musculoskeletal disorders is £5.7 billion, annually5.

Loss of working days due to self-reported musculoskeletal disorders

Year  Days lost
Average days lost
(per worker) 
Average days lost
(per case) 
 2001/2  11,810  0.52  19.3
 2003/4  11,844  0.52  19.4
 2004/5  11,602  0.5  20.5
 2005/6  9,450  0.41  17.3
 2006/7  10,715  0.46  16.7



  1. Spiers NA, Matthews RJ, Jagger C, Matthews FE, Boult C, Robinson TG et al. Diseases and impairments as risk factors for onset of disability in the older population in England and Wales: findings from the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2005; 60(2):248-54.
  2. Department for work and pensions. Disability Living Allowance - cases in payment Caseload (Thousands): Main Disabling Condition by Gender of claimant. [Date accessed: 1-5-2008].
  3. Health and Safety Executive. Musculoskeletal disorders. [Date accessed: 1-7-2008].
  4. National Statistics. Self-reported work-related illness and workplace injuries in 2005/06: Results from the Labour Force Survey. National Statistics.
  5. Health and Safety Executive. Musculoskeletal disorders - Why tackle them?
  6. Health and Safety Executive. Estimated days (full-day equivalent) off work and associated average days lost per (full-time equivalent) worker and per case due to a self-reported work-related illness or workplace injury. [Date accessed: 13-5-2008].
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