Date: May 15 2012
Half of Australians suffer musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis and backache, a new international survey has shown, prompting calls for greater effort to counter the disease.
The figures are a ''staggering'' indication of the prevalence of such conditions, ranging from minor aches and pains to severe life-threatening types of arthritis, says rheumatologist Lyn March.
Professor March says the survey shows back pain to be the ''stand-out condition'' and Australia's leading cause of disability, triggering the greatest physical and psychological impact of all health conditions.
Osteoarthritis, low back and neck pain are other common conditions, affecting more than five million Australians. Knee osteoarthritis has been increasing at the greatest rate over the past decade, particularly in men, reflecting not only the increasing number of overweight and obese people, but also the incidence of sport injuries.
British expert Anthony Woolf says the impact of the musculoskeletal conditions is growing as the population ages, yet such conditions struggle to get the research and medical attention warranted, particularly given the rising demand for people to stay on at work into older age.
The greater acceptance of such conditions was partly because they rarely kill you, Professor Woolf said.
In Canberra to attend the Australian Rheumatology Association meeting, Professor Woolf said the soon-to-be-released full results of the international survey highlighted the enormous impact of back pain and arthritis and the need to encourage sufferers to take the right action early.
Professor Woolf said drug treatment, the right exercise and diet could significantly reduce the often disabling impact of such conditions.
''We do need to encourage people to be as physically active as possible,'' he said.
Professor Woolf advises people to seek advice about their condition if caused pain or difficulty in carrying out normal activities like going down stairs. ''If pain stops you doing what you want to do, you should do something to reduce that pain.''
Some people made a virtue of not taking medication for such aches when in fact there was a greater risk of increasing disability by not taking drugs, he said.
The conference has also heard the latest results of Adelaide research showing the use of high-dose fish oil allowed osteoarthritis patients to reduce reliance on the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, which can cause problems in the gut.
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