Brits soldiering on with muscle bone and joint pain

15 July 2015
woman running
More than half of British adults (58%) say they have suffered from muscle, bone or joint pain (such as back pain or arthritis) at some point in their lives. Yet, new findings from Bupa reveal that one in four (23%) people are taking a ‘grin and bear it’ approach – admitting they would wait at least a month before seeing their GP about their pain. Meanwhile, one in five (20%) people say it is unlikely they would speak to a GP about the condition at all. 

Bupa’s survey of 2,010 British adults reveals that people are choosing not to see their GP about muscle, bone and joint pain (also known as musculoskeletal conditions) are making this decision for a number of reasons:

• One in four (23%) worry it would be a waste of time;
• One in ten (11%) claim that they would not have enough time in their day to see a doctor about their condition; 
• While almost a third (30%) do not believe muscle, bone or joint pain is a serious medical problem. 

Instead, Bupa’s research reveals that the British public is seeking out alternative ways of treating muscle, bone or joint pain:

• Over a third (37%) would consider alternative therapies, such as yoga or going to the gym;
• A third (33%) of people say that they would manage their condition with painkillers rather than see their GP;
• One in four (25%) people would recommend treating muscle, bone or joint pain with home remedies, such as hot baths.

Katherine Cran, physiotherapist at Bupa, comments: 
“It’s worrying that so many people are affected by muscle, bone and joint pain. While most pain can be managed through rest and light exercise, if the pain is severe, you’re worried or if you are also suffering from other symptoms always seek medical advice. 

“In these cases quick access to professional advice and treatment is key which is why we support customers to get immediate advice over the phone through our physiotherapy self-referral service, helping people to recover sooner and prevent recurring long-term problems.” 

While UK adults appear to be living with musculoskeletal pain, official statistics show the true scale of the problem in Britain. The UK loses a staggering 31 million working days a year to musculoskeletal conditions such as muscle, bone and joint pain  making it the number one cause of workplace absence. 

Bupa’s internal data found that customers suffering from muscle, bone and joint conditions who used their physiotherapy self-referral telephone service experienced on average a 30% reduction in the need for surgery . In fact one in ten (10%) customers who use Bupa’s physiotherapy self-referral service don’t need to see a physiotherapist at all following specialist advice such as rest or exercises that can be done at home. 

The survey found that women in particular are reluctant to seek advice from their GP about muscle, bone or joint pain. Over one quarter of women (28%) say that they would wait for over a month or more to see a GP about these conditions, compared to only 18% of men. Women are also more likely to turn to painkillers, with 38% of women saying they feel they could manage muscle, bone and joint pain with painkillers, versus 27% of men. 

Almost half (42%) of women also believe that those suffering from muscle, bone and joint pain should seek alternative ways to get better, such as practising yoga or going to the gym, compared to 32% of men. A further one in ten women (10%) would choose to treat this type of pain with natural home remedies, such as a hot bath, heat wrap or massage, versus just 5% of men.

Notes to editor

About the research

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from ComRes. Total sample size was 2,010 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd and 25th May 2015.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables are available at

About musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions (muscle, bone and joint conditions) in Britain:
  • 31 million works days are lost every year in Britain as a result of muscle, bone or joint conditions.
  • Muscle, bone and joint conditions account for the fourth largest NHS programme budget spend of £5 billion in England. 
  • In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis, which is just one of the major musculoskeletal conditions that can affect adults and children alike.  

Bupa customer data shows that:

  • 30% of Bupa claims are for MSK treatment and services.
  • Customers suffering from muscle, bone and joint conditions who used Bupa’s physiotherapy self-referral telephone service experienced on average a 30% reduction in the need for surgery.
  • Approximately 10% of Bupa’s customers who use its physiotherapy self-referral telephone service don’t need to see a physiotherapist and can help themselves via rest or simple exercises that can be completed at home.

About Bupa’s telephone assessment service

If Bupa customers are suffering from a muscle, bone or joint condition, Bupa will arrange for a telephone consultation with a physiotherapist to discuss their symptoms. The physiotherapist can give these customers self-help exercises and advice to aid their recovery and, if face-to-face treatment is required, they can arrange a referral to an appropriate specialist. 

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

With no shareholders, our customers are our focus. We reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

We have 15.5 million health insurance customers, provide healthcare to around 14.5 million people in our clinics and hospitals, and look after over 23,300 aged care residents.

We employ over 78,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the USA, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland, and many more through our associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

Health insurance is around 70% of our business. In a number of countries, we also run clinics, dental centres, hospitals and care homes and villages.

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