Muscle and Joint Pain Costs European Economies Billions in Time and Money

Dec. 15, 2009
A new study finds that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for nearly half (49 percent) of all absences from work and 60 percent of permanent work incapacity in the European Union. These and other socio-economic consequences of suffering from poor health due to muscle and joint pain represent an estimated cost to society in Europe of up to €240 billion.

The groundbreaking study, conducted across 25 European countries in Europe and beyond by UK-based the Work Foundation, finds 100 million Europeans suffer from chronic musculoskeletal pain – over 40 million of whom are workers – with up to 40 percent having to give up work due to their condition.

“MSDs clearly have a serious, negative impact on the EU workforce, as they were responsible for millions of lost working days – 9.5 million were lost in one year in the UK alone,” says Stephen Bevan, managing director of the Work Foundation. “As Europe now struggles to emerge from the global recession, one consideration policy-makers should address is how labor productivity in businesses is being undermined by these often very painful conditions.”

Early Interventions Make a Difference
This pan-European research suggests that early detection of, and intervention in, MSDs ultimately reduces the burden on governments’ health and disability budgets, and measurably improves the lives of European citizens – and employees’ performance.

The Fit for Work report also recommends a new and more inclusive method to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of treating illness in general, and MSDs in particular. This method should consider more than the up-front costs of medical expenditure and incorporate wider socio-economic considerations – such as work productivity – into the financial and medical evaluations for treating MSDs and other chronic conditions. Such an approach could provide a more holistic and perhaps more realistic assessment of the overall costs and benefits of diagnosis, prevention and treatment, the report argues.

“The Fit for Work study clearly suggests that early intervention is a key factor in allowing people with MSDs to remain in work,” said Tatiana Quadrello, senior researcher at the Work Foundation. “ This has provided us with the beginnings of a potential calculation of an ‘early intervention premium,’ which could encourage governments and healthcare professionals to consider this when discussing intervention policies.”

The Fit for Work research has shown that people with musculoskeletal disorders who are able to work can experience health, social, psychological and economic benefits. According to Maarten de Wit, former vice president of EULAR-PARE, “Workers with MSDs who are supported at work are more productive and represent a return on investment for businesses. In addition, working and homemaking increase people’s sense of worth, making them happier and more productive and engaged members of society.”

A Call for Coordinated and Focused Action
Based on this pan-European study, the Fit for Work campaign was launched at the European Parliament in Brussels by MEPs Edite Estrela (SD, Portugal) and Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE, Bulgaria), with a keynote address from Belgian minister for Employment and Equal Opportunities, Joëlle Milquet, and Isabel de la Mata, principal adviser with special interest in public health at the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers. Professor Paul Emery, serving president of the European League against Rheumatism (EULAR), closed the launch with a call for action from policymakers, healthcare professionals, patients and employers. The launch of the project in Brussels is in partnership with leading European research organization RAND Europe, and was endorsed by the Swedish Presidency of the European Union.

“Only coordinated action between governments, business, the healthcare professional community and patients will result in interventions that allow those living with MSDs to stay working, contribute to society and maintain quality of life,” says Edite Estrela, MEP. The co-host of the launch event, Antonyia Parvanova, MEP, added, “Once governments have agreed that MSDs are a priority, they should set out national welfare and public health plans addressing these conditions, establishing frameworks for the delivery of care and services for people with MSDs.”

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