Musculoskeletal disorders are among the most common of human afflictions. They affect all age groups and frequently cause disability, impairments, and handicaps. They consist of a variety of different diseases that cause pain or discomfort in the bones, joints, muscles, or surrounding structures, and they can be acute or chronic, focal, or diffuse. Approximately 33 percent of U.S. adults are affected by musculoskeletal signs or symptoms, including limitation of motion or pain in a joint or extremity. In one study of Detroit residents who kept track of daily health symptoms in a diary, musculoskeletal symptoms constituted the most frequent category of health symptoms. The prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders generally increases with age, with the majority of persons aged seventy-five and over having some form of musculoskeletal disorder, especially arthritis.
Not only are musculoskeletal disorders highly prevalent, but, because of their association with aging, they are likely to become more prevalent as the population ages throughout the world. All racial groups are affected. While many of these disorders are not devastatingly disabling to affected individuals, their prevalence is so great that more mobility and other limitations are accountable to these disorders than to any other type. While much of the substantial cost of these disorders is due to the medical care and medications and other treatments required by patients, the preponderance of costs is due to work loss, which is a frequent consequence of these disorders.
Contained within the broad category of musculoskeletal disorders are a number of specific diseases and causes of pain, several of which affect a large percentage of the population. Musculoskeletal disorders range from back pain to rheumatoid arthritis and gout, and include different types of arthritis, tendinitis, and musculoskeletal pain. The most common musculoskeletal disorders are listed in Table 1, along with their point prevalence among adults in Western populations. The most prevalent disorders are low back pain, osteoarthritis, and so-called soft tissue rheumatism. Even though they afflict millions of persons around the world, several of the common musculoskeletal disorders fall into the category of moderately prevalent, including gout, a form of episodic arthritis; fibromyalgia, a disorder of diffuse muscular pain and a subtype of soft tissue rheumatism; and rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory systemic disorder that causes widespread joint pain.
DAVID T. FELSON, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York,