Although musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are among the most prevalent chronic conditions, minimal attention has been paid to the paediatric population. The aim of this study is to describe the annual prevalence of healthcare contacts for MSD by children and youth age 0-19 years, including type of MSD, care delivery setting and the specialty of the physician consulted.
Analysis of data on all children with healthcare contacts for MSD in Ontario, Canada using data from universal health insurance databases on ambulatory physician and emergency department (ED) visits, same-day outpatient surgery, and in-patient admissions for the fiscal year 2006/07. The proportion of children and youth seeing different physician specialties was calculated for each physician and condition grouping. Census data for the 2006 Ontario population was used to calculate person visit rates.
122.1 per 1,000 children and youth made visits for MSD. The majority visited for injury and related conditions (63.2 per 1,000), followed by unspecified MSD complaints (33.0 per 1,000), arthritis and related conditions (27.7 per 1,000), bone and spinal conditions (14.2 per 1,000), and congenital anomalies (3 per 1,000). Injury was the most common reason for ED visits and in-patient admissions, and arthritis and related conditions for day-surgery. The majority of children presented to primary care physicians (74.4%), surgeons (22.3%), and paediatricians (10.1%). Paediatricians were more likely to see younger children and those with congenital anomalies or arthritis and related conditions.
One in eight children and youth make physician visits for MSD in a year, suggesting that the prevalence of MSD in children may have been previously underestimated. Although most children may have self-limiting conditions, it is unknown to what extent these may deter involvement in physical activity, or be indicators of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. Given deficiencies in medical education, particularly of primary care physicians and paediatricians, it is important that training programs devote an appropriate amount of time to paediatric MSD.