What is a musculoskeletal problem?
Musculoskeletal problems may affect the muscles, ligaments, bones, tendons, and nerves. The problems can be sudden (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). The pain from musculoskeletal problems may be localized to a single area or widespread, covering multiple areas of the body. Common examples include tendonitis, stress fractures and low back pain.
What causes it?
Musculoskeletal pain is most often caused by an injury to the muscles, joints, bones, tendons, ligaments, or nerves. This can happen to anyone. Motor vehicle accidents, falls, direct impacts to the muscle, and sprains are all examples. Overuse of a body part can cause musculoskeletal problems also, such as tendonitis or some forms of low back pain. Posture problems and sedentary activity may contribute to the symptom.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms depend on whether the pain is caused by an injury or overuse and whether it is chronic or acute. The symptoms can also differ from person to person. Commonly, patients experience aching, stiffness, pain that can worsen with movement and loss of proper sleep. Some patients will have spasms or may feel a burning sensation in their muscles.
Musculoskeletal pain – different types?
Some of the more common types of musculoskeletal pain include:
- Muscle pain: This can be less intense than bone pain, but is often as debilitating. Muscle pain can have numerous causes: injury, inflammation, infections or decreased blood supply to the muscle. Infections and tumors may cause muscle pain also. Muscle spasms and cramps may be part of the clinical picture.
- Bone pain: Bone pain is frequently experienced as a dull, deep kind of pain and most commonly results from injury. It is important to evaluate for fracture, or less commonly, bone tumors.
- Joint pain: Joint problems usually produce an aching or stiffness kind of pain. It pain may be mild to severe and typically worsens when the joint is moved. There may be swelling or inflammation of the joint.
- Tendon or ligament pain: Pain in your tendons or ligaments is often caused by injury, including sprains of the area. Symptoms are often worse when the affected area is moved or stretched.
- Tunnel syndromes: These refer to disorders that cause pain because of nerve compression. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common example, along with tarsal tunnel syndrome, and cubital tunnel syndrome. Often, the pain follows along the path supplied by the compressed nerve and may feel like a burning sensation. These disorders are often caused by overuse of the affected area.
How is musculoskeletal pain diagnosed?
Your provider will usually start with obtaining a thorough medical history. The questions are designed to identify the possible causes of your pain, such as workplace or sports injuries, and your provider will also want to know how long symptoms have been present.
The provider then performs an examination, looking for the source of the pain. Inspection and palpation help to locate the source of the symptoms. Your provider may utilize x-rays or bloodwork to further assist in the determination of what is causing your pain. The results of these tests will help your provider to create a treatment plan for you.
How is it treated?
Musculoskeletal pain treatment will depend on what is causing your symptoms – bone, muscle, ligament, tendon, or joint problems can require different treatments.
Your provider may provide splinting to immobilize the affected area. Decreasing activity may also be recommended, along with the use of heat or cold. Strengthening exercises may be part of your treatment plan, along with stretching exercises, physical therapy and medications.