New research centre to tackle musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace

university of liverpool

Almost 31 million days of work were lost last year due to back, neck and muscle problems

The University of Liverpool and the University of Southampton have announced a major new research centre to tackle the impact of musculoskeletal disorders on people’s ability to work.

Researchers at the £1.4m Arthritis Research UK/MRC Centre for Musculoskeletal  Health and Work aim to find cost-effective ways of reducing the impact of conditions that affect the muscles, joints and bones on people’s employment and productivity.

Liverpool lead, Professor Robert Moots, from the University’s Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, said: “It’s so important to give people the opportunity to stay in work for as long as they want, without health problems getting in the way.

“This is a particular challenge as the population ages, retirement is delayed and the burden of musculoskeletal diseases becomes an ever increasing issue.  The new centre will bring together researchers and clinicians to tackle this problem.”

Work disability

The centre will focus its research on the three main musculoskeletal causes of work disability – back, neck and arm pain, osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis. A special theme will be the impact of these conditions on older people who are approaching normal retirement age.

Director of the new centre, Professor David Coggon, from Southampton, said: “Musculoskeletal conditions are a major cause of sickness absence and job loss.  We’re enormously excited about our new centre which we hope will lead to new ways of preventing their occurrence, and helping employees who are affected to stay in productive work.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) almost 31 million days of work were lost last year due to back, neck and muscle problems, and they accounted for more prolonged absences than any other ailment. Musculoskeletal disorders have been the primary cause of absenteeism for the past five years, with the UK having one of the highest rates in Europe.


However, more scientific evidence is needed on the best approaches to their management, and the interventions that could most effectively reduce their impact in the workplace. The new centre aims to fill that gap.

The research team will work closely with clinicians, employers, employees and patients to emphasise the importance of people with musculoskeletal conditions remaining at work where possible.

The centre will be co-located with the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton, with collaborating ‘spokes’ at Liverpool, Aberdeen, Oxford, Lancaster, Manchester and Salford, Guy’s and St Thomas’s Trust and Imperial College.

Occupational research

Dr Stephen Simpson, director of research at medical research charity Arthritis Research UK said: “The reason for setting up the centre is that we simply don’t know enough about the best ways of keeping people with musculoskeletal conditions in employment.

“Our researchers will be working with employees, employers and the medical profession to find solutions to what is a major issue for society, and we expect it will lead to some direct, practical outcomes.”

Professor Sir John Savill, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said: “This new multi-disciplinary centre capitalises on decades of MRC investment in occupational research, and aims to help employees, employers and policy makers face the challenges arising from the need to extend working lives while reducing employee turnover and absenteeism.”

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