Musculoskeletal conditions affect muscles, joints, nerves, soft tissues, tendons and ligaments are common in our community. All ages can be affected and the conditions may be acute, arising from injury or unaccustomed activity, or due to a long-term condition.
Symptoms include pain and restriction or loss of movement and musculoskeletal conditions can have a disruptive impact on life reducing the capacity to work and restricting lifestyle. The four most prevalent conditions: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and back problems impact on the lives of approximately one third of the population.
Allied health and musculoskeletal health
Allied health practitioners are key to prevention, diagnosis, early intervention and treatment of injuries and pain and the ongoing management of chronic musculoskeletal conditions. Allied health practitioners, often working as a multi-disciplinary team, have an important role in providing best practice care for people with musculoskeletal conditions. Advanced allied health professionals have undertaken further study and can provide more specialised care in a particular area, for example: sports medicine, pain management, hand therapy, care of the back and spine.
Allied health professionals take a wholistic approach, working in partnership with individuals to help them gain control of their condition, to restore or increase function, and to improve their health and quality of life. They can assist patients develop skills to cope with pain, reducing the need for strong medication. In some instances, allied health interventions will mean that surgery can be avoided.
Which professions are involved?
Allied health treatments depend on the type of musculoskeletal condition. For people with a straightforward issue, consulting the appropriate allied health professional for assessment, treatment and advice on ongoing management may be all that is required. People with more complex problems or chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis may benefit from the expertise of a multi-disciplinary team.
Chiropractors, osteopaths, and physiotherapists provide manual therapy services. A multi-disciplinary team including advanced practitioners and other allied health professions may provide treatments, depending on the client’s condition:
- Dietitians if overweight or obesity is exacerbating the musculoskeletal condition
- Exercise physiologists to promote strength, mobility and improve fitness levels
- Occupational therapists can assist with modifications to the home or workplace to promote self-care and independence
- Orthotists/prosthetists if devices are required to assist mobility
- Podiatrists if the condition involves the feet or gait
- Psychologists, social workers and mental health occupational therapists to encourage self-management skills and provide supports for people to manage mental health issues that may have a negative impact on their participation in their care program
- Hand therapists provide specialist interventions and orthoses for hand conditions.
Common areas of work
Allied health professionals treating musculoskeletal conditions work in a wide range of settings including hospitals, community health centres, general practices and independent private practice. It is increasingly common to find allied health practitioners working in multi-disciplinary health practices. Many practices have an area of specialization such as back pain, sports medicine or hand therapy.
Accessing musculoskeletal health services
Medicare funding can help people meet the cost of allied health services for the treatment and management of chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis. Your GP will need to complete a GP management plan and establish appropriate team care arrangements.
Private health insurance ‘Extras cover’ may provide rebates for some allied health services, but this will depend on the plan and level of insurance. Workers and accident compensation schemes such as that provided through Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission or Queensland’s Workcover program may also provide cover depending on the cause of your injury.
Allied health services may also be available through community health services or local programs funded by Primary Health Networks. Many people will have to pay the full cost of the treatment or some out of pocket expenses for their allied health treatments