Enabling work participation for people with musculoskeletal conditions. Lessons from work changes imposed by COVID-19: a mixed method study

Rosemary Hollick* (Corresponding Author), Gary Macfarlane, Lakrista Morton, Kevin Stelfox, Marcus Beasley, Gareth Jones, Karen Walker-Bone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives To understand what we can learn from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown about what enables work participation for people with inflammatory arthritis and chronic pain conditions.

Design Qualitative interviews embedded within an observational questionnaire study of individuals with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions.

Setting UK primary care (general practices), and secondary care-based rheumatology services.

Participants Individuals with axial spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis and MSK pain from three established cohorts completed an online/paper-based questionnaire (July–December 2020). A subset of respondents were selected for semistructured interviews.

Primary and secondary outcome measures The survey quantified the effects of lockdown on work circumstances. Qualitative interviews explored the impacts of these changes and the advantages and disadvantages of changes in work circumstances.

Results 491 people (52% female, median age 49 years) who were employed at the time of lockdown responded to the questionnaire. The qualitative analysis included 157 free-text comments on work from the questionnaire and data collected within 18 interviews.

Participants reported impacts on mental and physical health, and significant financial anxieties. The impact of work changes varied depending on individual and home circumstances. Some felt forced to ignore advice to shield and continue working. The flexibility offered by home working and changes in commuting enabled greater physical activity for some, while others missed the exercise normally undertaken as part of their commute. Others reported a constant need to be ‘present’ online, which heightened anxiety and worsened MSK symptoms.

Conclusion Lockdown showed that flexible working arrangements, which consider the positive and negative aspects of commuting, posture, movement, and work environment matter for work participation, and can have wider benefits in terms of health and well-being for those with long-term MSK conditions. Incorporating these into new models of work will help make the workplace more equitable and inclusive for people with long-term MSK conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere057919
Pages (from-to)057919
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number4
Early online date7 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2022


  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Pain
  • Pandemics


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