Professor Anthony Woolf
Chair of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA)
A focus on both the mental and physical affects of living with a musculoskeletal condition is improving treatment, but improving access to relevant treatments should be the sector’s priority.
Living with arthritis, or one of the 150 other musculoskeletal conditions that affect the locomotor system, can have multiple effects on a person’s life, going well beyond the physical symptoms.
Thankfully, today we have a greater understanding of the interaction between someone’s musculoskeletal health and their mental health.
The link between physical and mental health
A painful condition that limits a person’s abilities to work or enjoy life can see their mental health suffer. By taking a more holistic approach to treatment, we combat both the causes and symptoms of musculoskeletal conditions.
Anxiety and depression will sometimes actually manifest themselves as musculoskeletal pain.
Anxiety and depression will sometimes manifest themselves as musculoskeletal pain. We now know that improving an individual’s mood may help them cope better with that pain. Similarly, increasing an individual’s physical activity levels could positively affect their mental health.
Professor Anthony Woolf, Chairman of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA), says raising awareness of both the personal and economic costs of living with a musculoskeletal condition is vital in the effort to combat their wider impact on society.
The biggest cause of disability globally and in the UK
“Musculoskeletal conditions are the biggest cause of disability both globally and in the UK, and measuring the increasingly broad impact of what are often invisible conditions is something that those in the sector have worked tirelessly for,” he says.
“There’s the personal cost to the individual to think about, but also the economic cost of the healthcare that person will require, and the impact of them being out of work. There really is a lot to gain from working to improve musculoskeletal health in the UK.”
Indeed, there is a positive side to this increased prevalence for arthritis and similar conditions. Realising their increased impact should see developments in the sector, leading to further innovations in technology and other treatments. Those innovations are already present to an extent, with cost-effective surgical interventions and dramatic improvements in biologics that target inflammatory conditions.
A recent study in the World Health Organization bulletin calling for a ‘global response’ to musculoskeletal conditions confirmed their impact is growing, with ageing populations exacerbating the impact over people’s lifetimes.
Help people to help themselves
Professor Woolf insists it is time to take a positive, pragmatic approach to the issue.
“There’s much more of a focus now on how we can actually manage these problems more effectively and help people to help themselves,” he says.
“There are a lot of high value, simple measures that need to be made more available, such as self management and physiotherapy.”
Providing clearer treatment pathways for patients is a priority, as a condition’s impact is lessened if patients can access the help they need more quickly.
“If they do get a problem, they can see the right person at the right time to get the right treatment,” Woolf says.
ARMA continue to work closely with NHS England and Public Health England to build those clearer pathways, making treatment more accessible while also helping individuals in managing their own conditions.