Working of benefit in musculoskeletal pain

GPs should look beyond physical symptoms when diagnosing patients with musculoskeletal problems, according to a report by The Work Foundation.

Instead of ordering patients to stay off work until symptoms clear up, they should take into account the mental health benefits to patients of being employed. The report also suggests that early access to physiotherapy or to drug therapies can help reduce severity, impact and progression of musculoskeletal conditions.

Conditions such as arthritis and back pain account for up to a third of all GP consultations and cost the economy £7.4 billion a year in lost working days.

GPs should focus on what a patient can do rather than on what they cannot when diagnosing musculoskeletal conditions, according to the report.

Michelle Mahdon, senior researcher at The Work Foundation, said: 'What needs to change is the attitude of many GPs that a musculoskeletal disorder sufferer must be 100 per cent before return to work. 'Too many see only incapacity rather than capacity.'

Bob Grove, director of employment at the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, welcomed the report recommendations.

'Recognising the benefits of work to health is an important step to help prevent people with mental health problems being caught in a spiral of unemployment, poverty and ill health,' he said.'It is vital that GPs are aware of the impact of long-term sickness absence.'

He added that further action was needed to help GPs offer their patients the best care.


  • Returning to work can help patients to recover from musculoskeletal problems.
  • Call for GPs to ditch belief that symptoms must clear up before a return to work.
  • Long-term absence can lead to 'spiral of unemployment'.
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