Musculoskeletal disorders cost the UK £7bn a year, says the report
Muscle and joint pain - musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) - account for almost half of all sick leave, both in the UK and across Europe, a study has found.
No less than 49% of all sickness absence is caused by MSDs, said the Fit for Work Europe report by the Work Foundation business consultancy group.
It estimates that this costs the UK economy £7bn each year, rising to 240bn euros ($349bn; £219bn) across Europe.
MSDs include back pain, arthritis and repetitive strain injuries.
The report says an estimated one million people in the UK alone suffer from MSDs that cause them to take time off work, with 9.5 million working days lost each year.
It warns that both these numbers are set to rise as a result of an ageing workforce, the growth in obesity and the general decline in physical activity.
The study calls for a renewed effort across Europe to tackle MSDs, led by an increase in early detection.
It says this would both reduce the burden on governments' health budgets and cut sick leave levels.
"MSDs clearly have a serious, negative impact on the EU workforce, as they were responsible for millions of lost working days," said Stephen Bevan, managing director of the Work Foundation.
"As Europe now struggles to emerge from the global recession, one consideration policymakers should address is how labour productivity in businesses is being undermined by these often very painful conditions."
The Work Foundation is now launching a wider Fit for Work Europe campaign to press for more co-ordinated action to target MSDs by governments, healthcare professionals and patients.