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Pain management: Musculoskeletal pain

Musculoskeletal pain is pain that affects our muscles, ligaments and tendons, along with our bones.

What causes musculoskeletal pain?

The causes of musculoskeletal pain are varied. Muscle tissue can be damaged by the wear and tear of daily activities. Trauma to an area - from jerking movements, car accidents, falls, fractures, sprains, dislocations or direct blows to the muscle - can also cause musculoskeletal pain.

Other causes of pain include postural strain, repetitive movements, overuse and prolonged immobilisation. Changes in posture or poor body mechanics may lead to spinal alignment problems and muscle shortening, with the result that other muscles are misused and become painful.

What are the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain?

People with musculoskeletal pain sometimes complain that their entire bodies ache. Their muscles may feel as if they have been pulled or overworked. Sometimes the muscles twitch or burn. Symptoms vary from person to person, but the common ones are:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances

How is musculoskeletal pain diagnosed?

Your doctor or physiotherapist will conduct a thorough physical examination and take your medical history. Your doctor may also perform diagnostic studies to confirm the diagnosis.

How is musculoskeletal pain treated?

Different types of manual therapy, or mobilisation, can be used to treat people with spinal alignment problems. With acute musculoskeletal pain, these techniques have been shown to speed recovery.

Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs are often recommended.

In patients with musculoskeletal disorders such as fibromyalgia, medicines to increase the body's level of serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters that modulate sleep, pain and immune system function) are prescribed in low doses.

Other treatments may include:

  • Injections with anaesthetic or anti-inflammatory drugs in or around the painful sites
  • Exercise that includes muscle strengthening and stretching
  • Physio or occupational therapy
  • Acupuncture or acupressure
  • Relaxation/biofeedback techniques
  • Osteopathy - a system of evaluation and treatment by manipulation designed to achieve and maintain health by restoring normal function to the body
  • Chiropractic
  • Therapeutic massage
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 28, 2012

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