Musculoskeletal conditions are the leading contributors to disability burden globally and account for 27.4% of total disability burden in Australia. Timely research that addresses important questions relevant to consumers, clinicians and policymakers is critical for reducing the burden associated with these conditions.
Clinical trials are particularly important for providing information about whether interventions are effective and safe. They are also needed to test strategies for reducing the sizeable delays in translating evidence into practice.
A review of the current scope of musculoskeletal clinical trials in Australia found that National Health and Medical Research Council funding is disproportionally low compared with the burden of these conditions (averaging 5.8 new trials per year through the project grant scheme over the past 5 years, representing 0.8% of all project grants and funding, and 5% of NHMRC clinical trial funding). In the past 2 years, 128 Australian-initiated trials were registered in a trial registry, while about one in 20 randomised trials published in 37 leading general medical and musculoskeletal-specific journals was initiated in Australia. None were implementation trials.
Relative to the burden of musculoskeletal conditions in Australia, investment in clinical trials is not ideal. While Australian musculoskeletal trialists are productive and internationally competitive, we may not be addressing the most critical issues. There is an urgent need for Australian researchers, clinicians, policymakers and consumers to work collaboratively to prioritise the most important questions, secure appropriate research funding, and undertake well designed trials to ensure we deliver best evidence-informed care and optimal outcomes for people with musculoskeletal conditions.
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