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Musculoskeletal Disorders

What are musculoskeletal disorders?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are conditions that can affect your muscles, bones, and joints. They include conditions such as:

They’re extremely common. Your risk of developing MSDs increases with age.

The severity of MSDs can vary. In some cases, they cause pain and discomfort that interferes with your everyday activities. Early diagnosis and treatment may help ease your symptoms and improve your long-term outlook.

What are the symptoms of MSDs?

Symptoms of MSDs can include:

  • recurrent pain
  • stiff joints
  • swelling
  • dull aches

They can affect any major area of your musculoskeletal system, including your:

  • neck
  • shoulders
  • wrists
  • back
  • hips
  • legs
  • knees
  • feet

In some cases, the symptoms of MSDs interfere with everyday tasks, such as walking or typing. You may develop a limited range of motion and have trouble completing your routine activities.

What causes MSDs?

Your risk of developing MSDs is affected by your:

  • age
  • occupation
  • activity level
  • lifestyle
  • family history

Certain types of activities can cause wear and tear on your musculoskeletal system, leading to MSDs. Just as frequent sports training can wear down certain parts of your body, so can sitting in the same position at a computer every day, engaging in repetitive motions, lifting heavy weights, or practicing poor posture at work.

How are MSDs diagnosed?

Your treatment plan will vary depending on the cause of your symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to get an accurate diagnosis.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of an MSD, make an appointment with your doctor. To diagnose your condition, they will likely perform a physical exam. They will check for signs of pain, redness, and swelling, as well as muscle weakness or atrophy. They may also test your reflexes. Unusual reflexes may indicate nerve damage.

Your doctor may also order imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI scans. These tests can help them examine your bones and soft tissues. They may also order blood tests to check for rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

How are MSDs treated?

Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on your specific diagnosis and the severity of your symptoms.

To address occasional pain, they may recommend moderate exercise and over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. For more severe symptoms, they may recommend prescription medications to reduce inflammation and pain. In some cases, they may recommend physical therapy, occupational therapy, or both. These therapies can help you learn how to manage your pain and discomfort, maintain your strength and range of motion, and adjust your everyday activities and environments.

How can you prevent MSDs?

Your risk of developing MSDs increases with age. Your muscles, bones, and joints naturally deteriorate as you get older. But that doesn’t mean that MSDs are inevitable. By taking care of your body throughout adulthood, you can lower your risk of developing these disorders.

That’s why it is crucial to develop healthy lifestyle habits now. Regular strengthening exercises and stretching can help keep your bones, joints, and muscles strong. It’s also important to complete everyday activities in safe ways. Maintain a tall posture to prevent back pain, be careful when picking up heavy objects, and try to keep repetitive motions to a minimum. Ask your doctor for more information about how you can maintain a healthy musculoskeletal system and lower your risk of MSDs.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Kristeen Cherney
Medically reviewed on: Oct 18, 2016: William Morrison, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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