The Musculoskeletal Calculator (MSK Calculator) is a prevalence modelling tool for musculoskeletal conditions. Data on the burden of musculoskeletal conditions is lacking and for the first time these prevalence model provides estimates of the burden of musculoskeletal conditions to local areas. This information is particularly important to ensure that local decision makers take musculoskeletal conditions into account sufficiently when planning their services.

Why was this work needed?

Around 10 million people live with a musculoskeletal condition across the UK and these conditions account for the fourth largest NHS programme budget spend of £5 billion in England. However, local authorities often do not include these conditions in their formal assessments of their local health needs (Joint Strategic Needs Assessments).

Before the MSK Calculator was developed, there were no local estimates of the number of people with these conditions. By not measuring these conditions, it became difficult for local planners to take them into account and risked the conditions being overlooked. A lot of responsibility in the healthcare system, in particular public health, rests at a local level, so allowing estimates to be produced at this level was especially important.

What happened?

Arthritis Research UK has partnered with Imperial College London to develop the MSK Calculator, a tool designed to produce estimates of how many people have particular musculoskeletal conditions – osteoarthritis, back pain, rheumatoid arthritis and high risk of fragility fracture. Currently, estimates for osteoarthritis, and severe osteoarthritis, of the hip and knee are produced. These can be analysed in a number of different ways, including by local authority area.

What were the benefits?

Local authorities now have an estimate of how many people in their area are likely to have osteoarthritis and severe osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. This means they can produce plans with these people in mind, in particular, they can include them in Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies. This could lead to real improvements in the services and treatments available for people with these conditions.

What type of data was involved?

The osteoarthritis estimates are based on the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) survey. ELSA follows the lives of people in England aged 50 and over. It is conducted by NatCen, a social research agency. Its participants, selected from people who previously took part in the Health Survey for England, are interviewed by researchers every two years.

The estimates were produced by combining data from the ELSA national sample with existing local risk factor data, smoking rates for example. No identifiable data was used during this work and the numbers produced by the calculator represent estimates based on trends, rather than using data from specific individuals.

Were there any difficulties accessing data for this work?

This work produces estimates rather than precise numbers of people with osteoarthritis because these conditions are largely treated at a GP level and this data is not collected by the NHS. More comprehensive data collection could lead to a more accurate idea of the spread of these conditions and other musculoskeletal conditions.

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

This work was commissioned by Arthritis Research UK and carried out by Imperial College London.

Where can I go for more information?

Musculoskeletal Calculator