Knowledge of the determinants of disability in musculoskeletal conditions (MSC) is critical for reducing their burden. No epidemiologic studies from a truly comprehensive perspective consider environmental factors (EF) and personal factors (PF) as determinants of disability. However, one can identify candidate EF from the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) Core Sets for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoporosis (OP), osteoarthritis (OA), low back pain (LBP) and chronic wide spread pain (CWP). The objective of this literature review was to contribute to the validation of the EF from the ICF Core Sets for MSC and the candidate PF from a (ICF) Delphi exercise, as well as from the report of the Bone and Joint Decade (BJD) Health Strategy Project. The results of the literature search focus on reviews published between January 1991 and March 2006 that contained information on EF and PF that determine disability in LBP, RA and OA. Many PF and EF included in the ICF Core Sets were confirmed as potential determinants of disability. However, regarding some contextual factors, in particular EF referring to the physical environment, there is a lack of reviews and clinical studies that have investigated their relevance to disability. The predominant medical model in studies on disability in MSC may explain this lack of evidence. However, the increasing attention given to the integrative model of functioning, disability and health of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the approval of the ICF by the World Health Assembly in 2001 may stimulate future research on the effect of EF and PF on disability.