Musculoskeletal conditions are an increasingly common problem across the globe due to increased longevity and increased exposure to risk factors such as obesity and lack of physical activity. The increase is predicted to be greatest in developing countries, and there is thus an urgent need for the implementation of strategies and policies that will prevent and control these conditions. The ideal is modification of the risk factors in the whole community, and this will have wide-ranging health benefits as these risk factors are common to other major conditions. Changing people's behaviour is a challenge; targeting those at highest risk is potentially more effective, providing that there are both affordable ways of identifying those at risk and affordable interventions. Early intervention in those with a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis is probably the most cost-effective approach, but requires diagnostic capacity--in clinical skills and/or technology--as well as access to care. There is now much evidence for what can be achieved, but the challenge is how to implement these different strategies in developing countries where there are competing priorities for limited resources. The key strategy is to raise awareness among the public, health professionals, and policy makers of the importance of musculoskeletal health, of what can be achieved by prevention and treatment, and to ensure that policies reflect this. It is also necessary to educate the public to know when to seek care, and health-care workers to recognize the early signs of musculoskeletal conditions.