Musculoskeletal pain affects the muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and bones. Everyday activities, therefore, can result in body aches and musculoskeletal pain. So, whether you’re experiencing pain from a sports injury or a minor accident, know that muscle pain and related aches can happen to anyone.
Musculoskeletal pain usually affects the body support structures that allow normal daily movement. This includes low back pain, which is perhaps the most common type of musculoskeletal pain.
Musculoskeletal pain is quite common. It affects the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves of the body. The pain can be acute (a rapid onset with severe symptoms) or chronic (long-lasting). It can be localized in one area, or widespread.
Some of the more common types of musculoskeletal pain include:
Bone pain is usually a deep, penetrating, or dull pain, most commonly the result of an injury. However, the pain may be caused by a fracture or tumor.
Muscle pain is often less intense than bone pain, but it can still be debilitating. The cause may be an injury, autoimmune reaction, loss of blood flow to the muscle, an infection, or a tumor. The pain may be accompanied by muscle spasms and cramps.
Tendon and ligament pain (“tendinitis”) are types of musculoskeletal pain that often become worse when the affected area is stretched or moved. Pain in tendons or ligaments are often the result of an injury and may include sprains.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain in the muscles, tendons, or ligaments that usually affects multiple locations of the body. The pain is often difficult to describe. Fibromyalgia is generally accompanied by other symptoms.
Joint pain resulting from joint injuries and diseases usually produce a stiff, aching, “arthritic-type” pain. The pain may range from mild to severe and worsens when moving the joint. The joints may also swell. Joint inflammation (arthritis) is a common cause of pain.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis resulting from the “wear-and-tear” of joint cartilage.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the tissue lining the inside of joints (synovial membrane). It most commonly affects the joints of hands, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and feet.
“Tunnel” syndromes are musculoskeletal disorders that cause pain due to the compression of a nerve. The disorders include carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, and tarsal tunnel syndrome. The pain tends to spread along the path of a nerve and may be accompanied by a burning feeling. “Tunnel” disorders are often caused by overuse.
The severity of musculoskeletal pain can vary. In severe cases, the pain can cause such discomfort that it interferes with daily activities. The risk of developing musculoskeletal pain increases with age and has varying symptoms and causes.
What Causes Musculoskeletal Pain?
The causes of musculoskeletal pain can vary widely. Muscle tissue can be damaged by an accident or daily “wear and tear.” It can result from trauma to an area from a fall, an accident, or a direct blow to a muscle. Musculoskeletal pain can also result from any sudden jerking movement, a fracture, sprain, or dislocation.
Other causes of musculoskeletal pain include repetitive movements, overuse, and prolonged immobilization. Changes in posture or poor body mechanics can cause spinal alignment problems and muscle shortening, which can cause other muscles to be misused and become painful. Therefore, low back pain from overuse is the most common work-related form of musculoskeletal pain.
The risk of developing musculoskeletal pain can be caused by:
Certain activities can cause wear and tear on the musculoskeletal system, leading to musculoskeletal pain. These include:
Sitting in the same position at a computer every day.
Engaging in repetitive motions.
Lifting heavy weights.
What are the Symptoms of Musculoskeletal Pain?
The specific symptoms of musculoskeletal pain depend on whether the pain is caused by an injury or overuse. The symptoms will differ from person to person. Patients may describe the symptoms by saying their entire body “aches.” Or, they may say their muscles feel like they have been “pulled” or “overworked.”
Common symptoms include:
Localized or widespread pain that can worsen with movement.
Aching or stiffness of the entire body.
The feeling that your muscles have been pulled or overworked.
The sensation of “burning” in the muscles.
There may be pain in a specific spot (as in a pulled muscle or twisted ankle). The pain can affect any area of the musculoskeletal system, including:
In some cases, musculoskeletal pain may interfere with everyday activities like walking or typing. The patient may develop a limited range of motion or have trouble completing routine tasks. If the pain is intense, it may interrupt sleeping which will leave the patient feeling fatigued.
Fortunately, though, there are many ways to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal pain.
How is Musculoskeletal Pain Diagnosed?
To accurately diagnose musculoskeletal pain, your doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination and medical history and check for:
Your doctor may also test your reflexes. Unusual reflexes can be an indication of nerve damage.
In addition, the doctor may order imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI scans to examine the bones and soft tissues more closely. Blood tests may be run to check for rheumatic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
How is Musculoskeletal Pain Treated?
Your doctor will recommend a treatment plan based on the cause and severity of the symptoms. Treatment to address occasional pain may include moderate exercise with over-the-counter medications (e.g., ibuprofen or acetaminophen). For more severe symptoms, the doctor may prescribe medications to reduce inflammation and pain.
Different types of manual therapy, or mobilization, can be used to treat patients with spinal alignment problems. These techniques may help speed recovery for patients with acute musculoskeletal pain.
In cases of musculoskeletal disorders such as fibromyalgia, medications to increase the body’s level of serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters that modulate sleep, pain, and immune system function) may be prescribed in low doses. Other treatments may include:
Injections. Anti-inflammatory medications and anesthetics injected in or around the painful areas can help reduce pain.
Strengthening and stretching exercises. Therapies that can help the patient learn how to manage pain and discomfort, maintain strength, and range of motion. The exercises can help the patient perform daily tasks in a way that don’t worsen the pain.
Topical Analgesics. Ointments, creams, lotions, or gels rubbed directly into the skin at the site of the pain. Some of these work as counter-irritants, stimulating the nerve endings of the skin to distract the brain from the real source of pain, while others interfere with the body’s pain signals.
Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. A combination of pain relief and physical therapy to treat injuries and disorders that impair normal function. Physical and occupational therapy exercises help restore the range of motion, strengthen the body, and prepare the patient for tasks that would otherwise be challenging with musculoskeletal pain.
Osteopathic Manipulation Therapy (OMT). Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO) learn this hands-on technique of gently moving joints and tissues to correct restrictions in range of motion, help relieve pain, and promote healing. Stretching, resistance, and gentle pressure are used to calm muscle spasms and help heal inflamed tissues. OMT is most effective in the treatment of back and neck pain.
Chiropractic Care. Most of the emphasis of chiropractic care is on the treatment of musculoskeletal pain. As with osteopathic manipulation, chiropractors perform hands-on therapy. However, chiropractic therapy mostly focuses on spinal manipulation.
Therapeutic Massage. An ancient means of treating musculoskeletal pain that remains popular today. Massage therapists help relieve pain by pressing and rubbing the muscles and soft tissues to help relax the muscles, as well as applying pressure to force knotted muscles to release.
Acupuncture and Acupressure. A form of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture inserts thin metal needles into the skin to stimulate energy points and relieve musculoskeletal pain. Acupressure operates on the same principles; however, it involves placing pressure on those points with the fingers.
Relaxation and Biofeedback. Meditation and other relaxation techniques can reduce stress hormone levels in the body to help reduce the perception of pain. Biofeedback can help perfect relaxation techniques through the use of devices that display internal body processes like heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension to guide the relaxation process.
Is It Possible to Prevent Musculoskeletal Pain?
As the muscles, bones, and joints naturally deteriorate with age, the risk of developing musculoskeletal pain increases. However, musculoskeletal pain is not inevitable. By taking care of the body into adulthood, it is possible to lower the risk of developing these types of disorders.
It is crucial to develop healthy lifestyle habits early in life. Regular strengthening exercises and stretching can help keep bones, joints, and muscles strong. Examples of how these healthy habits can help include:
Completing everyday activities safely to avoid muscle strain.
Maintaining a proper posture to prevent back pain.
Lifting heavy objects properly.
Keeping repetitive motions to a minimum.
Every individual is different. Dr. Torres and the Novus Spine & Pain Center staff can provide specific information about how you can maintain a healthy musculoskeletal system and lower the risk of developing musculoskeletal pain.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and specializes in treating musculoskeletal pain. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle, while minimizing the need for opiates.