Cross-sectional examination of musculoskeletal conditions and multimorbidity: influence of different thresholds and definitions on prevalence and association estimates Academic Article uri icon


  • Multimorbidity and musculoskeletal conditions create substantial burden for people and health systems. Quantifying the extent of co-occurring conditions is hampered by conceptual heterogeneity, imprecision and/or indecision about how multimorbidity is defined. The purpose of this study is to examine the influence of different ways of operationalising multimorbidity on multimorbidity prevalence rates with a focus on working-age adults with musculoskeletal conditions. Weighted population prevalence rates of multimorbidity among working-age Australians were estimated using data from the National Health Survey. Two nominal thresholds (2+ or 3+ co-occurring conditions) and three operational definitions of multimorbidity (survey-, policy- and research-based) were examined. Using logistic regression, we estimated the association between the prevalence of multimorbidity among persons with musculoskeletal conditions compared to persons with non-musculoskeletal conditions for each definition and threshold combination.As few as 7.9% of working-age Australians have 2+ conditions using the research-based definition (95% CI 7.4-8.5%), compared to estimates of 15.3% (95% CI 14.3-16.2%) and 61.5% (95% CI 60.3-62.7%). with the policy- and survey-based definitions, respectively. Depending on definition, with the 3+ threshold multimorbidity prevalence ranged from 2.1% (research) to 41.9% (survey). Among the sub-sample with musculoskeletal conditions, multimorbidity with the 2+ threshold ranged from 20.2 to 92.2%; and with 3+ threshold from 5.9 to 75.4%, again lowest with the research-definition and highest with the survey-definition. When compared to any other condition (i.e. non-musculoskeletal conditions), all musculoskeletal conditions were positively associated with multimorbidity, regardless of definition or threshold.Depending on definition and threshold, multimorbidity is either rare or endemic in working-age Australians. Irrespective of definition, musculoskeletal conditions are a near-ubiquitous feature of multimorbidity.

publication date

  • 2017