A series of papers published in the medical journal The Lancet has indicated the huge global burden of musculoskeletal and other non-communicable disease. The Global Burden of Disease 2010 Study, published in December, shows that four of the top six causes of years lost to disability in 2010 were in physical therapists’ key areas of expertise – low back pain, neck pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other musculoskeletal conditions.
While communicable diseases such as diarrhoeal disease and tetanus are decreasing as a proportion of the total global burden, deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are rising. Deaths from heart disease and diabetes rose by just under eight million between 1990 and 2010, accounting for two of every three deaths (34·5 million) worldwide in 2010.
The study, led by Professor Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Seattle, the WHO and other researchers, has revised the estimates of burden of all health conditions and risk factors in all regions of the world. The authors say that “the rising burden from mental, musculoskeletal conditions and diabetes will impose new challenges on health systems” and that “health systems will need to address the needs of the rising numbers of individuals with a range of conditions that largely cause disability, not mortality”.
Heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, lung cancer, and HIV/AIDS were the leading causes of death in 2010, and ischaemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections, stroke, diarrhoeal disease, malaria, and HIV/AIDS the leading causes of premature mortality. Physical inactivity ranked number ten in health risk factors, with a strong link to NCDs.