Objective: Musculoskeletal pain (MSP) conditions are the biggest cause of disability and internationally, Indigenous peoples experience a higher burden. There are conflicting reports about Aboriginal Australians and MSP. We conducted a systematic review to describe the prevalence, associated factors, impacts, care access, health care experiences, and factors associated with MSP among Aboriginal Australians.

Methods: A systematic search of quantitative and qualitative scientific and grey literature (PROSPERO number: CRD42016038342). Articles were appraised using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. Due to study heterogeneity a narrative synthesis was conducted.

Results: Of 536 articles identified, 18 were included (14 quantitative, 4 qualitative), of high (n=11), medium (n=2) and low (n=5) quality. Prevalences of MSP in Aboriginal populations were similar to or slightly higher than the non‐Aboriginal population (prevalence rate ratio 1.1 for back pain, 1.2‐1.5 for osteoarthritis (OA), 1.0‐2.0 for rheumatoid arthritis). Aboriginal people accessed primary care for knee or hip OA at around half the rate of non‐Aboriginal people, and were less than half as likely to have knee or hip replacement surgery. Communication difficulties with health practitioners were the main reason why Aboriginal people with MSP choose not to access care. No articles reported interventions.

Conclusions: Findings provide preliminary evidence of an increased MSP burden amongst Aboriginal Australians and, particularly for OA, a mismatch between the disease burden and access to health care. To increase accessibility, health services should initially focus on improving Aboriginal patients’ experiences of care, in particular by improving patient‐practitioner communication. Implications for care and research are outlined.


Aboriginal Australians, musculoskeletal pain, disability, systematic review

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