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J Rheumatol. 1994 Mar;21(3):505-14.

Relative importance of musculoskeletal disorders as a cause of chronic health problems, disability, and health care utilization: findings from the 1990 Ontario Health Survey.

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Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU), Wellesley Hospital Research Institute, Toronto, ON, Canada.



Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are a leading cause of morbidity in the population, yet their prominence seems to be insufficiently appreciated. We describe the ranking compared with other major body systems of the prevalence of MSD, including arthritis and rheumatism, and back/neck disorders, as a cause of chronic health problems, longterm disability, restricted activity days, consultation with health professionals, and use of both prescription and nonprescription drugs.


We analyzed data from the 1990 Ontario Health Survey, a stratified random sample of the household dwelling population in Ontario, based on 45,650 individuals aged 16 years and over.


MSD ranked first in prevalence as the cause of chronic health problems, longterm disabilities, and consultations with a health professional and ranked 2nd for restricted activity days and use of both prescription and nonprescription drugs. No other body systems ranked invariably within the top 2 ranks for the morbidity indices examined. Even when compared to other major disease groups, arthritis and rheumatism ranked consistently in the top 3 and back/neck disorders also ranked high. MSD were mentioned as a reason for 40% of all chronic conditions, 54% of all longterm disability, 24% of restricted activity days and almost 20% of health care utilization. The impact of MSD was even greater in the 65 and over age group.


MSD have a major role in the health profile of the population. This high burden of illness should be considered in planning health care services and setting research priorities.

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