Activity Limitation Due to Select Medical Conditions


Lead Author(s): 

Stuart I. Weinstein, MD
Edward H. Yelin, PhD

Supporting Author(s): 

Sylvia I. Watkins-Castillo, PhD

Participants in the NHIS survey are asked about limitations they experience in activities of daily living (ADL) because of medical conditions. In 2015, more than 82 million adults, or 36% of the population age 18 years and older, reported they have difficulty performing routine ADL without assistance because of medical conditions. An additional 6.3 million children between the ages of 1 and 17 years are reported by their parents as needing more assistance in daily activities because of a medical condition than would be expected based on their age. While more than one medical condition could be reported, and often was, 64 million adults with ADL limitations had a musculoskeletal condition, approximately one-half the persons reporting a musculoskeletal condition. This is a much higher ratio than found in any of the other major disease categories.

The prevalence rate in the population reporting limitations in ADL increases with age, and affects one in four persons older than 75 years of age, primarily due to musculoskeletal conditions. Again, females, non-Hispanic whites, and residents of the Midwest are slightly more likely to report limitations due to health conditions than other demographic groups (Reference Tables 1.5.1 PDF CSV; 1.5.2 PDF CSV; 1.5.3 PDF CSV; and 1.5.4 PDF CSV)

Cause of Musculoskeletal Limitations

Spine problems with the back and neck are the most common musculoskeletal condition to cause limitations in ADL in young adults, but as the population ages, arthritis or rheumatism is a more common cause. The mean duration for limitations reported for all musculoskeletal conditions is 8 to 18 years. Although there is an increase in years of duration as the population ages, even among young adults aged 18 to 44, the duration of musculoskeletal conditions causing limitations is 8 years or more. (Reference Table 1.6.2 PDF CSV)

Reflecting the overall prevalence of medical conditions in females, they are also more likely to report impairment in ADL than are males. This is particularly true for musculoskeletal conditions. Females account for 58% of all persons reporting they are limited in activities of daily living; they account for 59% of those reporting a musculoskeletal condition impairment. Two of three adults age 18 and older (64%) reporting arthritis as a cause for ADL limitations are female, while 59% of those reporting connective tissue problems, including fibromyalgia, as the cause of ADL limitations are female. (Reference Tables 1.5.1 PDF CSV and 1.6.1 PDF CSV)

Non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, overall, report higher rates of limitation due to medical conditions than Hispanics and non-Hispanic other/mixed race/ethnic persons, except for limitations due to circulatory diseases. Limitations due to musculoskeletal conditions are all reported at higher rates by non-Hispanic whites than by other racial/ethnic groups. (Reference Tables 1.5.3 PDF CSV and 1.6.3 PDF CSV)

Again, residents of the Midwest report slightly higher rates of limitations due to medical conditions for all musculoskeletal diseases than do residents of other geographic regions in the US. (Reference Table 1.6.4 PDF CSV)


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