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The Most Common Musculoskeletal Disorders

Published on 3rd April 2020
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The Most Common Musculoskeletal Disorders
  1. What Are Musculoskeletal Disorders?
  2. What are the Symptoms of MSDs?
  3. What Causes MSDs?
  4. How to Diagnose MSDs?
  5. How to Treat MSDs?
  6. How to Prevent MSDs?
  7. Physician’s Help

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are medical conditions that affect the bones, joints, muscles and other tissues. There are many types of disorders plaguing tens of millions of people, but some are more common than others. In the following sections, the most common MSDs are discussed in terms of symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

common musculoskeletal disorders

What Are Musculoskeletal Disorders?

The term “musculoskeletal disorders” is a collective term, meaning it includes a variety of conditions.

Musculoskeletal disorders are very common. The various types of musculoskeletal disorders impact the muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments or bursas. The disorders cause pain to varying degrees, depending on the type and severity of the medical condition.

The Bone and Joint Initiative regularly updates its research on MSDs, and offers these facts:

  • One out of every two adults in the United States are affected by a musculoskeletal disorder
  • Three out of four people 65 years old and older are affected by an MSD
  • MSDs are more common than circulatory and respiratory diseases
  • Treatment costs for MSDs are higher than costs for common health conditions

There is a long list of musculoskeletal disorders because this group of medical conditions refers to any abnormal condition of the muscles, bones, ligaments or tendons due to inflammation, infection, environmental factors, genetics and injuries. Conditions include fibromyalgia, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tendinitis, sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissues), muscle or tendon strain, Tension Neck Syndrome, rotator cuff tears, a musculoskeletal tear of any kind and many more.

The top three most common musculoskeletal conditions are the following:

  • Arthritis – all types of arthritis are considered MSDs, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteopenia, psoriatic arthritis, etc.
  • Lower back and neck pain – includes conditions like a ruptured or herniated spinal disc, ligament sprain, muscle or tendon strain, degenerative disc disease, etc.
  • Trauma – trauma occurring from falls, auto accidents, workplace injuries, repetitive motions, etc. can lead to bone fractures and damage to soft tissues (tears, sprains, strains, nerves)

What are the Symptoms of MSDs?

People with musculoskeletal disorders may have a variety of symptoms. Pain is one of the earliest symptoms, but how it is expressed differs from person to person. Some people experience a general pain in their bodies, while others may experience pain in a specific area.

Following is a list of musculoskeletal diseases symptoms:

  • Recurrent pain occurring with varying severity, depending on its cause
  • Stiff joints
  • Joint noises
  • Stiff muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Inflammation
  • Warmth
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Impaired range of motion
  • Difficulty moving
  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Muscle spasms
common musculoskeletal disorders stiff joints

The symptoms experienced depend on the type of MSD disorder experienced. For example, osteoarthritis causes painful, stiff joints and inflammation around joints; a strained muscle is painful and may experience spasms.

What Causes MSDs?

The causes of MSDs may be due to things like an accident at work or repetitive movements. In the case of fibromyalgia, there is no determined specific cause.

For the three most common musculoskeletal set of conditions, there may be a genetic factor involved in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. However, many cases of MSDs are related to:

  • Aging
  • Amount of regular exercise
  • A lifestyle which includes weight and diet
  • Consistently poor posture when sitting, walking or lifting
  • Regularly lifting heavy weights
  • Sitting for long periods of time
  • Repetitive motions

Aging and workplace injuries are the top two events leadings to MSDs. When a musculoskeletal disorder develops, a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary habits and being overweight aggravate the medical condition.

common musculoskeletal disorders sitting for a long period

How to Diagnose MSDs?

With so many types of MSDs, the first step is pinpointing the cause of the symptoms. Seeing a physician for a physical exam is important to getting an accurate diagnosis to guide treatment.

The physician will look for external symptoms, like swelling, redness and bruising. He or she will discuss the patient’s pain and if the pain is localized or general. There is a review of other symptoms like muscle weakness, extreme fatigue and difficulty moving. Some MSDs are detected through blood analysis, like rheumatoid arthritis.

Depending on the results of this assessment, it is quite likely the physician will order an imaging test. X-rays, MRIs and CAT scans help with identifying the specific disorder.

How to Treat MSDs?

The treatment plan for MSDs, like the diagnostic procedure, depends on the medical condition. For example, degenerative disc disease may have a treatment plan that includes facet joint injections, a weight loss plan (if overweight) and physical therapy. Psoriatic arthritis is treated with medications, like disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

Treatment plans for MSDs will include a combination of things that include any of the following:

  • Medications that include NSAIDs, DMARDs, biologic drugs, etc.
  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation
  • Surgery to replace joints, reset bones or repair severely torn or disintegrating soft tissues
  • Physical therapy or occupational therapy to improve range of motion and strength
  • Exercises that strengthen and stretch muscles, keep joints flexible, improve overall conditioning
  • Weight loss plan if overweight or obese
  • Healthy diet planning
  • Therapeutic massage

Common to all MSD treatment plans is pain management. There may acute or chronic pain, nerve pain, musculoskeletal pain, joint pain and other types of pain. Sometimes the pain can be self-treated with hot and cold packs and over-the-counter medications. In more complex and severe cases, pain is treated with prescription medications and other treatments.

How to Prevent MSDs?

In BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, authors Rebecca Lewis writes in Strategies for optimizing musculoskeletal health in the 21st century that regular exercise, staying physically active, aerobic fitness, weight loss and strength, and balance training are the ideal interventions for low back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and falls.

Some MSDs may not be preventable due to genetics. Even in those cases, maintaining a strong body, normal weight, and good posture and following a healthy diet and exercise plan can go a long way towards minimizing the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders and improving healing time when applicable.

Physician’s Help

Of course, if there is a traumatic event, like a fall and injury, get emergency treatment. If there is a sudden onset of pain or pain that persists for more than a couple of weeks, it is important to see a physician for a medical assessment. The physician can help a patient better manage their MSD.

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