What is musculoskeletal pain?
Musculoskeletal pain refers to pain in muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. You may experience this pain only in one area of the body such as the back. If you have an extensive condition like fibromyalgia, it can be all over your body as well.
The pain can range from mild to severe enough to interfere with your daily life. It can start suddenly and be short-lived, called acute pain. Pain that lasts longer than 3 to 6 months is called chronic pain.
Types of musculoskeletal pain
There are several symptoms and causes of musculoskeletal pain. Some common types of pains are:
- Bone pain: Usually deep, piercing, or numb. It usually comes from an injury. It is important to make sure the pain is not related to a fracture or tumor.
- Muscle pain: Often less severe than bone pain, but still debilitating. Muscle pain due to injury, autoimmune reaction, loss of blood flow to the muscles, infection, or tumor. Pain can also include muscle aches and cramps.
- Tendon and tendon pain: Pain in the tendons or ligaments is often caused by injuries, including sprains. This type of muscle pain is often aggravated when the affected area is stretched or moved.
- Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain in the muscles, tendons, or ligaments. The pain usually appears in several places and is difficult to explain. Fibromyalgia is often accompanied by other symptoms.
- Arthritis: Joint injuries and diseases generally cause stiff and painful “arthritic” pain. The pain can range from mild to severe and worsens when the joint is moved. The joints can also swell. Inflammation of the joints (arthritis) is a common cause of pain.
- “Tunnel” syndromes: Refers to muscle disorders that cause pain due to nerve compression. These defects include carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, and tarsal tunnel syndrome. The pain spreads along the innervation pathway and feels like burning. These disorders are often due to overuse.
Symptoms of musculoskeletal pain
People with musculoskeletal pain sometimes complain of pain throughout the body. Your muscles may feel stretched or overworked. Sometimes muscles twist or burn.
- Muscle pain can be severe and short-lived due to numbness or the powerful muscle contraction commonly known as Charlie Horse. The muscle can twist or contract uncomfortably.
- Tendon pain from an injury can feel sharp. It usually intensifies when the affected tendon is moved or stretched and improves with rest.
- Joint pain feels like pain. It is characterized by firmness and swelling.
- Fibromyalgia causes multiple spots all over the body.
Nerve compression pain may have tingling, tingling, or burning sensation. Other symptoms depend on the cause of the pain and include:
- Cracking or popping sound in the joint
- Difficulty moving the affected area
- Sleeping problems
- Muscle aches or seizures
Causes of musculoskeletal pain
The causes of musculoskeletal pain vary. Damage to muscle tissue with the wear and tear of daily activity. Injuries to one area (jerky movements, car accidents, falls, fractures, sprains, dislocations, and direct injuries to a muscle) can also cause muscle pain. Other causes of pain include postural stress, repetitive movements, overuse, and chronic stabilization. Changes in posture or body mechanics can lead to spinal alignment problems and muscle contraction, causing other muscles to become overused and painful.
Muscle disorders: These disorders directly affect the bones, muscles, joints, and tendons. Injury to bones, joints, muscles, tendons, or ligaments is the most common cause of muscle pain. Waterfalls, sports injuries, and car accidents are some of the events that can cause pain.
There are more than 150 different muscle defects. The most common are:
- Arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, osteoarthritis, gout, and ankylosing spondylitis
- Injuries such as fractures and dislocations.
- Muscle damage (sarcopenia)
- Problems with bone or joint formation, such as scoliosis
Diagnosis of musculoskeletal pain
Because there are many causes of musculoskeletal pain, your doctor will first take a detailed medical history and ask about your symptoms. Expect answers to questions like:
- When did the pain start?
- What are you doing at the moment (for example, exercising or playing sports)?
- What does it feel like throbbing, burning, pain, tingling?
- Where does the pain arise?
- What other symptoms do you have (drowsiness, fatigue, etc.)?
- What is worse or better?
Your doctor may press or move the affected area in different positions to find the exact location of your pain. Many tests can help determine the cause of your pain.
- Blood tests to look for signs of inflammation that indicate arthritis.
- X-rays or CT scans to find problems with the bones
- Magnetic resonance imaging to detect problems with soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments
- Joint fluid test to detect crystals that cause infection or gout
Treatment for musculoskeletal pain
A variety of manual therapies or equations can be used to treat people with spinal alignment problems. For some severe musculoskeletal pain, these techniques have been shown to heal quickly. Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to treat inflammation or pain.
In patients with a musculoskeletal disorder such as fibromyalgia, low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters that modulate sleep, pain, and immune system function) may be indicated at the body level. Some sleep aids include Zolpidem (Ambion), Esopiclone (Lunesta), and Ramaltian (Rozerem).
Other treatments may include:
- Sedative or anti-inflammatory injections in or around painful areas
- Exercises such as muscle stretching and strengthening
- Physical or occupational therapy
- Acupuncture or acupressure
- Leisure/biofeedback methods
- Osteopathic manipulation (the entire evaluation and treatment system designed to achieve and maintain health by restoring normal body function)
- Chiropractic care
- Therapeutic massage
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Olive)
- Corticosteroid injections in the painful area
- Opioids (only for more severe pain due to addiction and risk of side effects)
- Practical therapy
- Therapeutic massage
- Chiropractic / Osteopathic Manipulation
- Physical therapy
- Alternative therapies
- Herbs, vitamins, and minerals
- Aids and equipment
- Cervical collars
- Pelvic support
Surgery: Surgery is usually reserved for cases that do not improve with conventional treatments. Policies can include:
- Joint replacement
- Cartilage and soft tissue repair
Changes in lifestyle
For injuries or problems related to overuse, your doctor may recommend resting until the affected body part has healed. If you have arthritis or other muscle pain, it may help to do some stretching and other exercises as directed by a physical therapist.
Both ice and heat are good pain relief options. Ice reduces inflammation and reduces pain immediately after the injury. Reduce heat stress a few days after the initial injury.
Sometimes it helps to talk to someone about your pain. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches ways to manage pain more effectively.