Musculoskeletal pain is an outstanding symptom among the patients of primary health care. However, there are few studies of management and costs of musculoskeletal pain at primary health care level. The aim of this study was to describe the diagnostic investigations, management, referral rate and sick leaves related to visits prompted by musculoskeletal pain as well as to assess their costs. A total of 28 general practitioners (GPs) at 25 randomly selected health centres throughout Finland collected the data for this 4 week study, which covered 1 week from each of the four seasons. All visits, except those occurring after hours, were recorded. Altogether 1123 patients visited GPs because of musculoskeletal pain. Laboratory tests were ordered for 12% and imaging investigations for 24%. A total of 16% of the patients suffering from musculoskeletal pain received a prescription for physiotherapy, and analgesics were prescribed to 61% of them. Physicians referred 7% of the pain patients to specialist care. One out of every four patients was prescribed sick leave. The mean cost of the investigations, therapy, referrals, and sick leaves was as high as 530 EUR per visit, with absenteeism from work constituting two-fifths of the total costs. Musculoskeletal pain is not just a frequent complaint but also has extensive economic consequences for society. Investigations and therapy at the primary health care level play a minor role in the costs as compared with specialist care and sick leaves.
Copyright 2002 European Federation of Chapters of the International Association for the Study of Pain.