Musculoskeletal pain is a pain that affects the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves, and can affect anyone, at any age. This type of pain may be spread throughout the body, or localised in one area, and it may be acute, characterised by severe symptoms with a rapid onset, or chronic, with long-lasting pain which usually has a gradual onset.
Lower back pain is the most common type of musculoskeletal pain, but conditions such as myalgia, tendonitis and stress fractures are also common. Musculoskeletal pain may result from an accident or injury, including a fracture or dislocation, or may be caused by overuse or incorrect use of a muscle group. Lifting heavy objects repeatedly or incorrectly, for example, is a common cause of lower back pain.
Symptoms of Musculoskeletal Pain
The symptoms of musculoskeletal pain can vary a great deal between different people, and it can also depend upon whether the pain has been caused by overuse or by an injury. People who are experiencing musculoskeletal pain often feel pain, localised to one area or widespread, which worsens with movement. Many people report feeling stiffness or aching in the muscles, which can feel as though they have been put under strain, and it is also common to experience sleep disturbance and fatigue, due to the muscles cramping in the night.
Getting a professional diagnosis and treatment plan is very important when you are experiencing musculoskeletal pain, and this is particularly helpful because the way it presents can be so individual to you. An experienced practitioner will be able to formulate a plan that is more likely to be successful for you than a generic approach, and this will give you the best possible chance of recovery.
Types of Musculoskeletal Pain
Musculoskeletal pain can vary widely between individuals, but the most common types of musculoskeletal pain include:
- Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that is characterised by pain throughout the body and accompanying fatigue. It affects the soft tissues, and is also linked with many other health conditions, as well having an impact on mental health. The causes of fibromyalgia are unclear, but it is often debilitating and life limiting.
- Joint pain: Pain in the joints can be caused by injury or by certain diseases, and the pain may range from minor to chronic. Arthritis is a condition that can cause inflammation and pain in the joints, and this can be debilitating. It is very important that your treatment plan takes your unique experience into account in order to ensure the best outcomes for you.
- Bone pain: Bone pain is often described as a dull but deep pain, and usually results from injury. If you are recovering from an injury, an experienced practitioner will be able to help you to reduce the pain you are feeling, but it also very important to ensure that there is no underlying fracture or tumour causing the pain.
- Muscle pain: Muscle pain is usually not as intense as bone pain, but can range from mild to severe and may also include cramps and muscle spasms. Muscle pain is often related to an injury, an infection or an underlying problem, such as a tumour or loss of blood.
- Tendon and ligament pain: If you are experiencing pain in the tendons or ligaments in a specific area of the body, this will usually be the result of an injury. Movement or stretching can cause the pain to worsen, and a treatment plan will take this into account and include particular types of movement that will be beneficial for you.
- Carpal Tunnel syndrome: Many people experience Carpel Tunnel syndrome, which is caused by compression of the nerves, leading to tingling, numbness and pain in the hands and fingers and can eventually cause weakness and lack of coordination in the fingers and thumb if left untreated. Other tunnel syndromes include Tarsal Tunnel syndrome, which affects the nerves of the feet, and Cubital Tunnel syndrome, which affects the elbows, forearms and hands. These conditions are often caused by overuse of the area, and are surprisingly common amongst office workers or those who spend a long time sitting at a desk or typing.
Treatment Options For Musculoskeletal Pain
The way in which your musculoskeletal pain is treated will depend upon how it has developed and the way in which the pain manifests for you. Discussing your case with a specialist will ensure that you are treated in the most appropriate and effective way. Injections with anaesthetic or anti-inflammatory medications may be given into the areas in which pain is experienced, or you may be offered physical or occupational therapy.
A specialist will help you to learn exercises that will strengthen the affected muscles, and you may find that therapies such as acupuncture or acupressure are recommended to you. Relaxation techniques can be very helpful in reducing the pain and can also help you to manage the other symptoms that often accompany musculoskeletal pain, such as fatigue and low mood.
Peter Browne, Consultant Rheumatologist in Tralee & Limerick
If you think you may have musculoskeletal pain, it is a good idea to ask your doctor to refer you for specialist treatment. Finding out the cause of your pain and beginning a treatment plan that is specific to you can make all the difference to your prognosis and to the pain you are experiencing.
Dr Peter is a qualified rheumatologist who sees patients in Tralee and Limerick. To make an appointment, you will need to visit your GP or other healthcare professional, who can refer you to our rheumatology clinic. If you have a query, you can contact us online for more information.