The psychological, social and economic impact of musculoskeletal conditions

Using cohort study and social prescribing data to explore peoples' experiences of musculoskeletal conditions

In this project we are investigating the psychological, social and economic impact of musculoskeletal conditions.

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions refer to a wide range of health conditions affecting joints, muscles, bones and pain syndromes. They impact many aspects of life, including psychological wellbeing, quality of life, ability to work, and social and community engagement. In this project we will undertake analysis using large-scale longitudinal representative datasets, to allow for a nuanced understanding of how people experience MSK conditions, and their impact on people’s everyday lives.

Research methods

In the first phase of research, data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) will be combined with the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Individuals who developed osteoarthritis (also rheumatoid arthritis in ELSA), and onset and persistence of chronic pain between each wave of data collection will be identified and compared to similar individuals who did not.

The analysis will compare differential outcomes in:

  • psychological wellbeing
  • social relationships
  • engagement in social, leisure, and community activities
  • employment
  • and financial circumstances.

The project will also explore ‘quality of life’. The researchers will identify components that are amenable to change, the impact of partners and family members, patterns among racial and ethnic minority groups and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the second phase, the project will use large scale datasets to explore the impact of social prescribing, an increasingly common intervention where people are referred to a range of activities in their communities. As well as comparing outcomes of people with MSK conditions who take up activities with those who don’t, we will also assess how social prescribing outcomes and uptake vary by individual characteristics.


The findings will be shared with key stakeholders, including:

  • individuals with lived experience and the public
  • health and social care professionals
  • academics
  • and policy makers.

Programme area

Epidemiology and Behavioural Science



Research Team

Professor Andrew Steptoe (Principal Investigator)

Dr Daisy Fancourt (Co-investigator)

Dr Feifei Bu

Dr Mikaela Bloomberg

Rachel Marshall


Nuffield Foundation, in partnership with Versus Arthritis as part of the Oliver Bird Fund.