Objective: In light of the high frequency of symptoms of musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders in the population, our objective was to establish the impact of these disorders on morbidity and health care utilization.
Methods: Analysis of interview data from the 1990 Ontario Health Survey (sample size 45,650 from the household population age > or = 16 years) has provided one of the first opportunities to relate reported MSK morbidity to disability, illness duration, and use of health services.
Results: Overall, MSK disorders were reported as a cause of morbidity or health care utilization by 29% of the population aged > or = 16 years. The prevalence of chronic MSK disorders was 22%; this includes the 5% of the population who reported longterm disability due to MSK disorders. Of reported MSK disorders, 79% had a duration of over 6 months, and the median duration was 5 years. MSK disorders impact in the previous 2 weeks, defined as reduced activity or use of health care (seeing a health professional or taking prescription or nonprescription medication) specifically because of MSK disorders, was reported by 12% of the population, of whom 72% reported chronic MSK disorders. A health professional had been consulted within the previous year for 72% of the reported MSK disorders. The proportion with consultations was over 80% for durations of one year or less, and remained over 50% for disease durations > or = 10 years.
Conclusions: Reported MSK disorders cannot be dismissed as minor problems not requiring ongoing care in view of their long duration, disabling impact, and continuing consumption of health care services and resources.