Musculoskeletal pain is a broad term that refers to any pain affecting the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. The pain can be acute, coming on suddenly with severe symptoms, or chronic, and it can be localized in one area of the body, or widespread. Low back pain is by far the most common type of musculoskeletal pain, affecting an estimated 31 million Americans and listed in the 2010 Global Burden of Disease report as the leading cause of disability worldwide.
“Pain in the lower back is so common, it affects nearly every adult at some point in their lives,” says Elena Herschdorfer Rodriguez, D.O., family medicine physician with Bayfront Health Medical Group. “The challenge is, getting patients to identify the problem early, and working with their health care team to identify the source of the pain. Together they can take the necessary steps to ensure the problem doesn’t impact their quality of life.”
There are several distinct types of musculoskeletal pain, with varying symptoms and causes.
Bone pain is usually described as a deep, penetrating, or dull pain, and is most commonly the result of an injury. It is important to be sure that the pain is not related to a fracture or tumor.
Muscle pain is typically less intense than bone pain, but it can still be debilitating. Muscle pain can be caused by an injury, an autoimmune condition, loss of blood flow to the muscle, infection, or a tumor. Symptoms may also include muscle spasms or cramping.
Tendon and ligament pains are often caused by injuries, including sprains or overuse injuries. This type of pain often becomes worse when the affected area is moved, exerted or stretched.
Joint pain is typically described as a stiff, aching or arthritic pain. The pain may range from mild to severe and worsens when moving the joint. Joint inflammation, also known as arthritis, is one of the most common causes of pain.
Tunnel Syndrome refers to disorders that cause pain due to nerve compression, i.e. carpal tunnel syndrome. The pain, typically caused by overuse, tends to spread along the path supplied by the nerve and may feel like burning.
Fibromyalgia is a condition of unknown origin that may cause pain in the muscles, tendons, or ligaments. The pain is usually in multiple locations, accompanied by other symptoms, and is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat.
Men, women and children of any age can experience musculoskeletal pain. It can be caused by jerking movements, car accidents, falls, fractures, sprains, dislocations, or direct impact. Pain can also be caused by overuse, poor posture or prolonged immobilization. It is most important to work with an orthopedic or primary care physician as soon as possible after the pain starts, in order to identify the type and source of the pain, and to construct a treatment plan.
You should expect your physician to do a thorough physical examination, and if appropriate, some diagnostic imaging studies. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment options for musculoskeletal pain not relieved by over-the-counter medications may include injections of anesthetic or anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy sessions focused on muscle strengthening and flexibility, acupuncture or acupressure, chiropractic care, therapeutic massage and/or minimally invasive surgical procedures.
One of the more significant issues associated with musculoskeletal pain is the loss of quality sleep, especially for those with more chronic or autoimmune conditions. Your physician may recommend a sleep study to gauge the level and amount of quality sleep you are getting, and whether it may be impacting your body’s ability to properly heal. Any one of a number of supplements or medications may be recommended to help you achieve the ideal of seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
With so many potential causes and types of musculoskeletal pain, it’s best not to assume your pain is simply overuse or old age. Like most conditions, the earlier the problem is identified, the better the treatment options and outcomes. Talk to your primary care physician or to an orthopedic specialist and describe your pain as best you can. If you need to be connected with a physician, call 941-575-1514 for an appointment with a family medicine physician, or 941-613-3800 for an orthopedic specialist. Same-day appointments often available.